The short: 3/5 ✦. A Gothic thriller that’s largely forgettable but for the unique protagonist and the atmospheric village setting.
How I came to own this book is a pretty funny story.
I wanted to order Michael Palin’s newest diaries collection, Travelling to Work. I had to do it online because it was only published in the UK (at the time), and I didn’t want to wait for the US to finally get around to publishing more Palin genius. So I found a seller on Amazon with a new copy and good reviews and ordered it. A couple weeks later (due to overseas shipping), I received a book-shaped package in the mail. Naturally, I assumed this was Travelling to Work, but I was a little suspicious when I started to open it because the box looked much thinner than I had anticipated (all of Palin’s previous diaries had been well over 400 pages long each). Sure enough, I pulled out The Taxidermist’s Daughter, which I had never heard of. I was mildly disappointed, as you may understand, and emailed the seller about the apparent mix-up. They were very pleasant and expressed surprise at how I could have been sent a different book that had seemingly little relation with the one I wanted (beyond the fact that they are both British publications and start with T?). They generously allowed me to keep the wrong one and immediately sent out Palin’s book, which arrived shortly thereafter and I enjoyed it immensely.
You may laugh now.
The point of this hilarious tale is that I now own this strange book that’s been sitting awkwardly on my shelf for a few months. I suppose it’s rather like when a well-meaning friend or relative gifts you a book for Christmas or something, and it’s not one on your Amazon wishlist. You feel rather obligated to read it anyway, though, don’t you?
So I did.
The synopsis for The Taxidermist’s Daughter sounded interesting enough, though I wasn’t sure what kind of book it would turn out to be. Mystery? Historical fiction? Romance? Turns out, it’s a little bit of all those things. The romance sections thankfully are only a small, predictable part of the story, and though it’s categorized as a historical thriller, it’s not really thrilling. I’m not terribly adept at detecting foreshadowing and plot points, but even I figured out the ending long before it happened. The books jumps around with narrators, so though it’s largely about Connie, the titular character, she’s among the last to learn the truth, and it can be a bit frustrating to watch her stumble past obvious clues. To be fair, she’s very sharp and levelheaded, and her amnesia keeps her in the dark for much of the story – until it’s convenient, of course. (I’m not a fan of memory loss as a character trope; it’s far too easy to misuse and usually scientifically inaccurate.)
Connie was a pretty good protagonist, though I think she rushes into relationships a bit too quickly. She had to take care of herself most of her life, so her independence and general stalwartness is justified for the time period. The Big Bad Thing that happened to cause her amnesia and set off the story’s events is unfortunate and unfortunately predictable. Perhaps it was meant to shock, but all I felt was resignation. It didn’t help that most of the other characters (pretty much all the male ones) were very similar, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone’s name. Not-so-nice guy talks to another not-so-nice guy and then actual-nice-guy interrupts, and so on and so forth.
The best parts was the setting: a little village somewhere in West Sussex, and it felt very real and alive. Rain and mud and marsh were realistically and atmospherically introduced, and though I was reading it in sunny California, I could almost feel the chill of the storm at the end, when all the mystery’s pieces are appropriately coming together.
Basically, the three-star rating is because the writing and the taxidermy elements made it better than “meh” (I learned a lot about stuffing birds), but not very much so. I’m glad I read it, though, because it was something new and not a book I’d’ve chosen myself.
Header image: The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse, published September 11, 2014 by Orion