by Rachel Donohue
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There is pretty clearly a trend in my reading patterns. I claim to have a varied and eclectic bookshelf, but let’s be honest, historical mystery is my first love, and apparently, specifically those set at boarding schools with “dark secrets.”
An up and coming journalist is assigned to cover the impending anniversary of the disappearance of a teacher and student from the venerable and elite Catholic boarding school, Temple House. Her tangential connection to the missing girl draws our protagonist to explore a deeper understanding of the mystery and the people involved and this exploration will lead to the explosive and long-hidden truth of what happened.
The story shifts between the present day and decades ago when our missing girl, Louisa, arrives at Temple House as a scholarship student. Her status at the school is repeatedly made clear to her by the elite girls who are part of legacy families and who don’t rely on scholarship money. She meets the mysterious Victoria who never treats her as less than, but Victoria has secrets, and Louisa may not be prepared to know what they are.
Then of course there is the charming and handsome Mr. Lavelle, the art teacher. He’s not like the other teachers, he’s a cool teacher (wink, wink, nod, nod). All of the girls are in love with him, obviously, though maybe some of them would never admit it. And Victoria and Louisa presumably share a special connection with the young man. He goes missing the same time as Louisa – is he involved? Is this a classic case of a teacher taking advantage of a student? Temple House knows, but it’s a secret everyone is prepared to take to the grave.
First things first, Donohue really knows how to set a scene. This novel is best described as atmospheric. Temple House is practically it’s own character, offering important context for the actions and beliefs of all of the players. You can sense Louisa’s discomfort at trying to find her way, and Victoria is clearly an outsider at Temple House despite her privilege.
I really enjoyed this one. I will say that if this is a genre you love (🙋🏼♀️ hi, hello!) and read often you’ll likely start to guess at the ending, like I did. But there is enough tension and suspense to keep you second-guessing the version of events history wants you to believe. The characters are really well developed and so whether you like them or not, they invoke a pretty strong feeling one way or another. I was also impressed with the pacing – the story never really dragged or felt drawn out. Every interaction and action served the overall story.
Generally speaking, a great mystery, well-timed, and kept me on the hook right up until the end. I look forward to more from Rachel Donohue!
Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.