'There is surely no more fitting place for a disgraced housemaid to take her life,' and there surely no better place to start a novel. Almost immediately the questions were lining up: We know that the housemaid is Martha Collett, we can guess at the nature of her disgrace, but why does the author state that 'they' plunge into the river?
Rescued, Martha is persuaded to pair up with her sister Epiphany to form a psychic act - Miss Fortune and her spirit guide, Rosina. And it is a good act: the most one hundred per cent genuine demonstration of Psychic Power you will ever see on this our mortal plane. But Martha is completely unaware that this will take her back to the very house where she became mistress to Rafe Lyward. A house which seems reluctant to give up its secrets: How did Dacre meet his end in Africa? What is Rafe hiding from Dacre's grieving widow, Flora, and his own wife, Adelia - also Dacre's sister? (I would draw you a venn diagram if I could.) Why do housemaids keep on leaving without notice? And what has become of Martha's child who was born in a workhouse?
This atmospheric novel paints a stark picture of the limited options available to women - even intelligent upwardly-mobile young women like Adelia - in 1903. After marriage there is the running of the household. For respectable working class women there is domestic service, but this is sometimes little better than prostition, sometimes remarkably similar. Some authors try to impose 21st Century standards on their characters. Evie Woolmore avoided this temptation, so that the scandal that might be caused by divorcing a husband whose affections clearly lay elsewhere was a serious consideration even for the most modern of the women depicted.
Equilibrium was the subject of my first experiment with a Kindle and so I was a little slow to get into the story, but it soon became apparent that several characters were on their own truth-seeking missions. For me, the fact that no-one was as they first seemed provided the perfect distraction from the book's biggest twist. I don't want to give it away but suffice to say I simply didn't see it coming.
There is much to admire in the writing and something to appeal to fans of both historic fiction and the paranormal. Evie Woolmore's exploration of the the hinterland between the living and the dead is even more poignant because the reader knows what the characters do not: that although the Boer War is over, the horrors of the First World War are just around the corner. So whilst Equilibrium is restored, for most of them, respite can only be temporary.