“The collective noun for a group of crows is ‘a murder’. Thus, tellingly, our terrific tale begins.”
Years ago, when we first began to visit Cornwall our kids were fascinated by the Victorian museum of stuffed animals, then housed at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor.
The ghoulishness of stuffed, menacing birds, was offset by the charming set-pieces of hamsters and guinea pigs, sitting at desks in a tiny schoolroom, or all dressed up for a wedding.
Kate Mosse has developed her own attachment to these Victorian curiosities into a spectacularly spooky gothic tale in her novel. Set ‘on the edge of the drowned marshes’ of a small Sussex village in 1912, the book opens with a bizarre midnight ceremony held by villagers every year. They gather outside the old church one the Eve of St Mark, when they believe that the ghosts of those destined to die in the coming year will materialise as the church bell tolls.
What happens instead is a murder. A few days later the body of a young woman is found floating in a stream beside the house of our heroine, 22 year old Connie Gifford. The woman has been garrotted with a taxidermist’s wire. Connie suspects her alcoholic father of the crime; he is indeed the local taxidermist, once wealthy owner of a fabled museum, now a failed drunk since te vogue for stuffed birds fell out of fashion.
Connie, unusually for a young lady, has learned her father’s craft and practices it with relish and precision. She is an expert on the Corvid family – rooks, magpies, jackdaws and crows. The collective noun for a group of crows is ‘a murder’. Thus, tellingly, our terrific tale begins.
“This is an excellent gothic romp of a novel”
This is an excellent gothic romp of a novel, and Mosse sets it in her native Sussex, where the marshes are both haunting and threatening, and the sea is prone to dramatic flooding.
Connie, the taxidermist’s daughter, lives a solitary life with her broken father in lonely old Blackthorn House. Ten years earlier, she fell down the stairs of her father’s then-thriving museum and lost her memory. She still cannot recall what happened that night, but she had brief flashbacks of an older girl, to whom she was once close.
Something terrible happened that night; something her father has kept a dark secret. And after a dead woman is found floating near their home, Connie is caught up in a web of mystery, blackmail and murder.
Judy and I loved this story. It’s gripping and a perfect read for winter nights. The secrets Mosse reveals are truly shocking; local men bound by a sinister agreement; threats; ghostly notes and gruesome discoveries.
Fishbourne, where Connie lives, is hauntingly described by Mosse, who tells us this is a love letter to her home village. The Sussex landscape is lyrically evoked and Connie is a strong and vibrant heroine.
Although the book is set in 1912, only two years before the outbreak of the Great War, the atmosphere in remote Fishbourne seems almost Victorian, perfect for Mosse’s theme of taxidermy (which involves plenty of gory disembowelling) and dark, homicidal secrets. But although this wonderful novel ends on a note of hope, the reader is all too aware that only a couple of years in the future, the world will be plunged into darkness.
A haunting note on which to end a haunting book.
Here are a selection of the reviews for The Taxidermist’s Daughter
“Mosse is an engaging storyteller, deftly dealing with the intricacies of her involving, gruesome plot”
“Gripping, moving and intricately written, The Taxidermist’s Daughter will surely delight [Mosse’s] legions of fans. It’s perfectly paced and impossible to put down”
“Her complex plot moves at rocket speed. Unputdownable . . . sure to be a bestseller”
“A superb atmospheric thriller, its Gothic overtones commanding attention from the very first page”