Song of the Damned (Phineas Fox Mystery) Hardcover – 31 July 2018
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"The mix of music and history provides a refreshing backdrop to Fox's amateur sleuthing. This series started strong and keeps getting stronger"--Booklist
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The action begins in the present day and close to home: a girls’ school in an English market town. Formerly a convent, Cresacre Abbey School is celebrating its bicentenary and staff invite Phineas to help solve an historical mystery. What fate befell a small group of nuns who disappeared without trace more than two hundred years ago?
What follows is a rich multi-layered story with vividly-described characters and buildings whose very names ooze sinister atmospheres. The perfectly-paced narrative switches seamlessly between heart-stopping scenes set during the French revolution and blood-curdling sequences played out in the cellar of the forbidding Infanger Cottage. Along the way, we learn about the ritual of Lemurrer, meet the wonderfully flamboyant Cesare Chimaera and speculate about the existence of the enigmatic Ginevra.
As in her previous books, Ms Rayne’s precise use of words paints vivid pictures that often arouse strong emotions. Even a seemingly innocuous sentence can be imbued with a sense of threat. For instance, this appears on page four: It was as if a breath of cold air had gusted softly into the warm book-lined study. (Cue goose bumps.)
There are comedic touches, too. The developing relationship between Phin and Arabella is a particular delight; their light exchanges provide flashes of humour as tension inexorably mounts to a dark and terrifying climax.
The Song of the Damned strikes a chilling chord.
Phinn is surprised and pleased to receive a letter from Harriet Madely, the headmistress of Cresacre Abbey School making flattering reference to Phinn’s work and recent book, and who hopes he might be able to help her with a rather delicate and unusual matter in relation to their bicentenary celebration’s. However, mention of the irrepressible Arabella Tallis reminds him that she had off-handily mentioned a couple of events she would like him to accompany her to that called for black tie and dinner jacket, and all became clear. Mention of a fee rather clinched the matter as Phinn’s quarterly service charge was due.
The request is of course not that straight forward. Historically a member of the Tulliver family is entitled to a seat on the school board. The current Tulliver is Olivia who sees it as her life’s work to get an opera written by her uncle Gustav included in the bicentenary programme. None of the other members agree, but Olivia is implying that if her request is not granted the funds for the Tulliver Scholarship may be reduced. All Phinn has to do is assess the opera, and as Phinn’s is highly regarded in his field, convince Olivia that it’s not a good idea. Well as Phinn discovers it has already been turned down by everyone of note – so simple. Then we meet Olivia who is definitely on the odd side and who still lives at Infanger Cottage, inherited from her uncle, a strange and eerie place only accessible along a narrow footpath that is both dark and gloomy and to which sunlight never reaches – so maybe not so simple!
Phinn is immediately fascinated by the school’s former incarnation and the odd legends relating to a group of nuns who disappeared over night more than 200 years ago. What happened to them has never been discovered and many myths have grown up as to their fate. On a visit to the old church Phinn sees a carving that disturbs him greatly as it depicts a macabre ritual.
The modern narration is interspersed with diary extracts from the 1790’s by a first-person unnamed narrator. And so, as Phinn delves into the history so slowly the plight of the missing nuns is revealed. But there are more sinister secrets closer to home to be discovered. And who was Ginevra, a shadowy figure about whom legend abounds?
Dark and atmospheric in this intriguing story there is mystery upon mystery. Although a sinister spine-chilling tale of medieval rituals, there are some wonderful light-hearted touches, and some marvellously well-developed characters. I loved it. And it is of course highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett