Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: March 2016
Format: Hardcover, 432 pgs
"Taxidermy - the art of preparing and preserving the skins of animals and of stuffing and mounting them in lifelike form." ~ Dictionary.com
Constantia "Connie" Gifford witnesses something unthinkable and dark on the eve of St. Mark, the night when the locals of a remote village believe that the ghosts of those fated to die in the coming year are said to materialise and amble through the church doors. While Connie isn't one who is superstitious, she is fascinated by this tradition which has been passed down for more than a decade. But, what most astounded her is seeing her father amongst the crowd as well. What is her father doing there? Crowley Gifford rarely mixes with the residents nowadays ever since their taxidermy museum business had gone down ten years ago. It is like he has become a different person. Gone is his cheerful and charismatic demeanour, the present Crowley Gifford is a man who drinks and keeps things to himself. Although his museum has gone, he had passed on the art of taxidermy to Connie, which she has not only mastered it with ease but also has the capability of capturing the essence of the animals, in particularly the birds.
As the night falls and the crowd has dispersed eventually, Connie creeps out of her hiding place after all the commotion which has took place earlier. What she sees shook her to the core - for a woman is found murdered with a bloody wire coiled around her neck. Though Connie doesn't recognise the woman, she finds herself deeply affected by her death for there is something familiar about her. Perhaps affected by this ordeal and the feelings of being watched, Connie's long lost memories of her childhood accident begins to tease through her mind slowly. What had happened on that night when she was twelve? Is the dead woman somewhat connected to her forgotten childhood days? As unfortunate events began to happen in the quiet town of Fishbourne, Connie knew she has to find some answers surrounding her past as well as the secrets which Gifford seems to be keeping from her all these years.
While I have to admit I wasn't really taken in by the art of taxidermy, it is without a doubt a fine art of its own and it was great learning more about taxidermy through some of the descriptions written in this story. Taxidermist seems to be a position dominated by men so I was quite surprised to read about a female taxidermist in this book, never mind it is a fiction and all Connie does is working on birds. Species like jackdaws, magpies, rooks and crows play a significant role in this story and as you read further you will begin to understand the reason of their roles and how the mystery unravels.
Given the subject and the atmospheric setting of Fishbourne in the 1910s, it is natural to think this story has a dark, gothic feeling and while it is to a certain extent, I actually felt this is more of a story about justice in retribution and righting the wrongs when the victim feels the law is working against them. Despite the subject, I found myself engrossed in this story from beginning to end and like Connie, I was very anxious to find out the mystery and the truth behind it. Although there are some dark elements, there are also some bright, positive ones that show in a person's trait, like Connie and a few people in her life. Her acquaintance and her liking towards Harold Woolston, a man she has encountered while finding the truth might consider to be a bit in haste to some readers but I could feel the chemistry between them through their exchanges and their little gestures. They may be subtle but they are there.
While I wasn't surprised by the ending (I did make a guess early on and found my speculation to be right), it was still a compelling read in my opinion.