Kearsley’s “Splendour Falls” (published in the U.S. in 2012, the work was originally published abroad during the late 1990s) is centered around the medieval castle of Chinon (France), the site where King John of England rescued his queen, Isabella of Angouleme, from rebels who were keeping the castle under siege in 1203. In the present, Emily Braden badly needs an adventure. Cynical and still wounded from her parents’ divorce five years earlier, Emily is adrift. Her cousin, a historian and great admirer of King John’s, insists she join him on this research trip to Chinon to get her life back on track. Emily reluctantly agrees but isn’t surprised when her hapless cousin fails to pick her up upon her arrival in town. She goes to the Hotel de France alone and meets an intriguing cast of characters, all with various reasons for being in town: an ill-matched American couple on vacation, two Canadian brothers on the grand tour, a German artist, a professional musician recovering from an injury, and the dapper owner of a large vineyard that overlooks the town.
Emily tours the area, investigating the castle and the local chapel honoring Sainte Radegonde while waiting for Harry to appear. After two mysterious deaths and no word from her cousin, however, Emily suspects the worst. While investigating where Harry might be, Emily and her friends inadvertantly stir up a hornet’s nest of local intrigue – where some will kill to keep secrets hidden and where many have associations they would prefer to keep hidden.
Although the book opens with a prologue about John and Isabella, that history has little to do with Kearsley’s tale, except both stories are staged around the 11th century “chateau” (castle). Those familiar with Kearsley’s books will immediately recognize this as an earlier work by the author. It lacks the intricate plots that combine the past and the present together so seamlessly, an aspect that Kearsley has become known for. Using the historic town only for its backdrop and legends, Kearsley’s modern day heroine Emily is thrown into a web of murder, greed, and family secrets. Even though the descriptions of Chinon are exquisite, it’s easy to feel that this is simply a modern day thriller that could have been set anywhere – the minor part the history plays in the narrative is a bit disappointing for ardent Kearsley fans like myself. You still see glimpses of the author’s supernatural touch, but in the end, the story is a straight murder mystery.
This plot is intricate – almost too complicated at times with many needless characters, in my opinion – but it lacks the historical punch that Kearsley’s more recent works attain. All in all, I thought this was a great thriller – all the twists and turns will leave you dizzy – but nothing compared to what Kearsley achieves in her later works.
Amazon link for the book is here.