Jill MeyerHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on June 24 2010
Katharine McMahon's novel, "The Crimson Rooms" is a splendid read, set in London in 1924, but harking back to the Great War and the insanity and intense heartbreak - both physical and emotional - that the war wrought on the survivors. Evelyn Gifford is a newly-minted lawyer - a rarity in England at the time - who has lost her much beloved younger brother James in France in 1917. The children of a lawyer, it was James - the son - and not Evelyn - the daughter - who was thought of as the lawyer-to-be. However, Evelyn trains for the law at Cambridge University's Girton College and returns to London to look for work. She lives with her widowed mother and grandmother and great aunt in a large house. It's a household brought low by the sadness of losing both James in battle and Evelyn's father from grief soon after his son's death.
Evelyn finds a job with a "progressive" law firm and is soon launched into two cases. One's a murder case and the other's a child-custody case. And into the saddened ladies-household arrives Meredith - a Canadian nurse - and her six year old son, who's James' illegitimate son by the nurse. In between the cases, a possible new love, and her newly-discovered nephew, Evelyn's life is in turmoil. Author McMahon makes the most of both her story and her characters. It's a wonderful read; totally original. I never knew where the story would lead, and ultimately, end. I hope this stand-alone novel turns into a series.
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In 1927 London the forces of the Great War remain powerful in the lives of Evelyn Gifford, her mother, grandmother and her dear Aunt Prudence, all haphazardly ensconced gloomy Clivedon Hall Gardens. These spinsters are forced to face the inevitable. Although they have yet truly accepted the reality of their situation and seem destined to eke out a life of penury, they are still reeling from the loss of James, Evelyn's beloved brother who was killed in the War. Soon enough Evelyn is feeling the familiar tremor of apprehension because now, as always, will begin the series of events that have bought the telegram telling her James was dead. But life must go on, and Evelyn, who -as the novel opens - is seeking employment as a lawyer and is finding it a tall order in this world where the legal profession is as obstructive as it is dominated by men who want nothing to do with women. Certainly if James was alive his path would have been far smoother with a combination of his own talents and his father's connections.
Then in the small hours with the dream of James still fresh, the arrival from Canada of Meredith and Edmund, her son and James's child both coming unreachably out of time. The house seems to sag under the weight of the new arrivals, the Giffords truly flummoxed at the appearance of this strange woman and her little boy. James had written a fortnight before his death, but he had never mentioned this woman Meredith who is short of money and wants her boy to have an education as much as she wants to love in the house presumably rent free. Telling them she was a nurse on the hospital to which James was sent when he was wounded, the women of Clivedon Hall are positive that he might want a lot of money which they don't have.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction with a dash of mystery and romance worked inFeb. 20 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
The Crimson Rooms is set in post World War I London, England in the year 1924. Evelyn Gifford is haunted by the death of her cherished brother James, who died in the Great War. Evelyn is stunned when a young woman named Meredith and her 6 year old son Edmund show up on the families doorstep. Meredith who is a nurse, claims that Edmund , conceived in a battlefield hospital, is the son of her brother James. The family take Meredith and Edmund in but they are still grief stricken from James death as well as the recent death of Evelyn's father.
Evelyn is 30 years old, unmarried and lives with her mother, grandmother and Aunt Prudence and supports her family. This is quite unusual as Evelyn is one of few female lawyers and is struggling in a field that is dominated by men and a society that is not accepting of female lawyers. Most women of this time do not attend college and have their own careers. They are to focus on finding a husband and starting a family.
Evelyn is soon swept up in two legal cases that effect her life in many ways. One case concerns a young mother whose children are taken away from her because she is poor and she cannot care for them. Evelyn learns about the plight of the poor in London and uncovers some unknown secrets about what happens to some of the children who are being taken care of by these charitable organizations. In another case, a man that is an acquantance of her boss is charged with the murder of his wife but won't speak to anyone. Evelyn meets and falls for a lawyer that appears to show interest in her and the murder case she is working on.
Evelyn must deal with a shocking allegation that Meredith claims about her brother James. It shatters her perceptions of her brother and she uncovers the layers of deception within her own family. Meanwhile, Evelyn must contine to fight for recognition and respect in her role as a female lawyer while trying to help these two cases. Both cases end with drama and mystery with some unexpected twists at the end.
Ms. McMahon skillfully builds a story that is complex and layered with great detail. There is great depth to the story as McMahon builds strong characters and a complicated plot. At first, the story seems a bit mired in detail but I soon realized that the depth and detail was needed to weave the story that would unwind at the end. I enjoyed the historical aspects to the story which seemed to capture the spirit of this time period of London in the 1920's. There is murder mystery, courtroom dramas, social history and even a bit of love and romance mixed in. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction with a dash of mystery and romance worked in.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Fun Period PieceMarch 15 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Though most of the action in "The Crimson Room" takes place in the mid twenties the real impetus comes from World War I. That war shaped the characters; warped them, saddened, bent or strengthened them. When her brother James is killed in the war Evelyn's family allows her to use the money set aside for James' education. She becomes one of the first female lawyers. Meredith, a young woman who'd met James while nursing near the front, appears on the family doorstep with a young boy who looks inexplicably like James. Evelyn, her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt are dismayed at meeting this unknown child but also charmed by his resemblance to their lost loved one. They let Meredith and her son move in with them. Evelyn has had few opportunities to find love because she's so bookish and isolated AND because she doesn't believe in her beauty. During one of Evelyn's first law cases, a child custody trial, a handsome fellow lawyer chases her down to talk and she's smitten though she soon finds out he's already engaged. It doesn't matter though. She's already lost her heart. Their paths cross again when Evelyn becomes involved with a murder trial and her not to be lover's upcoming father in law is the defendant's boss. There are some interesting twists and turns in "Crimson Room" and Evelyn is a delightful protagonist. On the dust jacket Mosse compares McMahon to Sarah Waters but I'd say she's more like Anne Perry, whom I love as well. Both Perry and McMahon are excellent at creating period settings and deft mysteries.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Don't depend solely on the law, depend on justice."June 13 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
"The Crimson Rooms," by Katharine McMahon, opens in 1924, with thirty year old Evelyn Gifford shaken by a recurring nightmare involving her brother, James, dying in agony at the age of twenty on a muddy French battlefield. She is startled to hear a knock at the front door in the middle of the night. Much to her bewilderment, a woman is standing in the entrance with a little boy who looks exactly like Evelyn's late brother. The stranger introduces herself as Meredith Duffy; she is accompanied by her son, six-year-old Edmund, whom she claims is James's child. The arrival of these guests throws the Gifford household, consisting of Evelyn, her mother, grandmother, aunt, and two maids, into turmoil.
Evelyn is a graduate of Cambridge with a bachelor of law degree, but "tradition dictates that women should not be lawyers and the law is governed by tradition." She considers herself fortunate when Daniel Breen, who is a champion of the downtrodden, takes her on as his articled clerk. She soon becomes embroiled in two very different legal matters: One involves a destitute woman, Leah Marchant, who is desperate to regain custody of her three children; the other concerns a former soldier, Simon Wheeler, who will hang if he is convicted of murdering his wife, Stella. Evelyn works tirelessly conducting research, interviewing witnesses, and uncovering surprising new evidence that could influence the outcome of both cases.
This is an engrossing work of historical fiction that is almost impossible to put down. The admirable heroine, Evelyn Gifford, is a highly intelligent and tenacious fighter for justice. In spite of the jibes she is subjected to about "women lawyers," she perseveres, knowing that if she is to become a respected advocate, she will need to be tough. The plot thickens when Evelyn is attracted to a dashing and charming barrister, Nicholas Thorne, who is already engaged to the gorgeous and wealthy Sylvia Hardynge. When Thorne appears to reciprocate her interest, Evelyn must decide how to handle this awkward situation. Her decision becomes even more difficult when she is forced to choose between desire and personal integrity.
Eventually, Evelyn faces some hard truths about herself, her family, and the society in which she lives. Edmund, Meredith, and Nicholas penetrate her psychological defenses, and she allows herself to feel deeply for the first time since that day in 1917 when she learned that James was dead. Her work with Breen reinforces Evelyn's outrage at the favorable treatment afforded to the rich and well-connected, while indigent females are denied basic civil rights. In addition, as Jacqueline Winspear does so effectively in her Maisie Dobbs series, McMahon creates a grim portrait of the ways in which the Great War decimated the flower of English youth. Those who survived often returned home maimed both in body and spirit. "The Crimson Rooms" is old-fashioned storytelling at its best. It is compelling on so many levels: as a suspenseful murder mystery, an incisive tale of social injustice, a poignant love story, and a gripping family drama. Although some readers might have wished for a more upbeat conclusion, the author shows courage in wrapping up her complicated story realistically. Truth be told, a sequel to this wonderful book would be most welcome.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great cover to cover readingFeb. 22 2011
D. Merrimon Crawford
- Published on Amazon.com
In 1924 London, Evelyn Gifford's awakens from a nightmare about her brother James who died in the Great War. That very night, a nurse, Meredith, comes to the door claiming that her six-year old son was fathered by James shortly before he died. Although Edmund looks so much like James, Evelyn is not quite sure she trusts Meredith. What are her motives? As a struggling attorney in a world that doesn't quite accept women lawyers, Evelyn must now support the rest of her family. When Daniel Breen takes her on as his clerk, she sets about to help a downtrodden woman, Leah Marchant, gain custody of her children. Also, soldier Simon Wheeler has been accused of killing his wife, Stella. His case seems hopeless, but nevertheless, Evelyn sets out to investigate. Handsome barrister Nicholas Thorne takes an interest in her career. Although Nicholas is already engaged to Sylvia Hardynge, Evelyn finds herself attracted to him and to make matters more complicated, the attraction seems reciprocated. Will Evelyn be able to solve the mysteries before her, not only the truth behind Stella's murder but also the motivations of Meredith? Will she be able to help Leah when the system seems stacked against her. Will Evelyn find romance with Nicholas Thorne?
Katherine McMahon's THE CRIMSON ROOMS is a book that grabs a reader from the beginning with an intriguing mystery, but the mystery doesn't stop there. Each situation presents a kind of mystery of its own, all seamlessly interwoven within the story. Even Leah's case, a case which gives insight into the historical period and its institutions, develops into a mystery as Evelyn wades through all the layers of society from the law to charity that separate Leah from her children. THE CRIMSON ROOMS integrates period history within the story without distracting from the characters and storyline. THE CRIMSON ROOMS presents a portrait of many different sides of post-WWI society, from the wealthy world of Nicholas Thorne to the less fortunate Leah, from the soldier and nurse to women struggling to make ends meet. Evelyn Gifford is a delightful character as are the characters who surround her. Unexperienced in love, her account of her feelings Nicholas Thorne has charm and freshness. Nevertheless, Evelyn is a woman with quite a lot of determination, not only in her choice of profession, but in her dedication to do all she can for her clients. Above all, she is a woman who grows throughout the story.
THE CRIMSON ROOMS has everything --- history, mystery and a bit of romance --- to make for great cover to cover reading. Once a reader enters into the world of Evelyn Gifford, the story itself and the characters are so memorable, that one easily re-enters the story from reading to reading. THE CRIMSON ROOMS is a great book to keep on the bedside table, but once begun, a reader might find oneself stealing more reading time. THE CRIMSON ROOMS is more a great story set in a historical period than history told through fiction. Historical details are accurate and give much insight into the period. Readers who like a good mystery will find several intriguing mysteries within the story, and yet, the development of the mysteries flow fluently from the story itself. Katherine McMahon is a superb storyteller!
Courtesy of Book Illuminations
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
thought provokingAug. 5 2013
Goddess of Blah Book Reviews
- Published on Amazon.com
When you visit a bookshop and see the front end stands littered with fluffy pink books that revolve around the deary existence of a shopaholic, an imbecile involve with the undead, or pervy billionaires out there to dominate you (and of course the height of every woman's ambition is the be the chosen prize of the fattest meal ticket - regardless that you couldn't possibly spend billions unless you plan a grand venture to end poverty - but of course one's progeny require billions to inherit otherwise they won't receive a good start in life).
Anyway, I digress - being confronted with the sexiest stockpile that resembles female fiction - it's refreshing to find a book (kept somewhere in the darkness) that bases it's plot on social injustice, female equality and the struggle our predecessors experienced when female emancipation was a dream.
The plot is intense, not only do we confront the struggle women face during the 1920s, we experience the difficulties of the working class mother, the misconduct and abuse of power by "respected" members of the community, the harsh reality of war, rape, innocence lost, unconditional love, unsavory shocking secrets, and a bittersweet romance.
The reason I love McMahon's work is that she portrays everyone in a fair light. Evelyn (protagonist) has her fair share of weaknesses and small mindedness, while the vilest creature has his share of redeeming qualities (I can't say as it would give away the plot).
Everyone is a victim of this world. Prejudice, unjust war, poverty and stigma. The struggle is painful and emotional. Justice isn't always redemption. All these issues are manifested in a mature and thoughtful prose.
The intensity of feeling, the injustice experienced, the suspense and shocking discoveries are sober rather than shady.
Engrossing doesn't encompass how brilliant this book is.
Living at home with her mother, aunt, and grandmother, Evelyn is still haunted by the death of her younger brother James in the First World War. She is also determined to make a career for herself as one of the first female lawyers. So when the doorbell rings late one night and a woman appears, claiming to have mothered James's child, her world is turned upside down.
Evelyn distrusts Meredith at first, but also finds that this new arrival challenges her work-obsessed lifestyle. So far her legal career has not set the world alight. But then two cases arise that make Evelyn realise perhaps she can make a difference. The first concerns a woman called Leah Marchant whose children have been taken away from her simply because she is poor. The second, Stephen Wheeler, has been charged with murdering his own wife. It is clear that Wheeler is innocent but he won't talk.
In the meantime, Meredith makes an earth-shattering accusation about James - and Evelyn falls in love with a man engaged to be married. With the Wheeler case coming to a head, and her heart in limbo, Evelyn takes matters into her own hands..