The Taxidermist’s Daughter
By: Kate Mosse
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Sussex, 1912. In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to be seen. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.
Standing alone is the taxidermist’s daughter. At 17, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it is all that is left of Gifford’s once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed animals that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man.
The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hand pick up a flint. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead.
While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible, but finds herself under suspicion. Is Constantia who she seems – is she the victim of circumstances or are more sinister forces at work? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Gifford House, hidden among the bell jars of her father’s workshop?
The Taxidermist’s Daughter is the last book from Kate Mosse’s backlist that I have yet to read. It’s also the most recent novel that she’s published, so I suppose it’s fitting that it’s the last book on my list 🙂 The premise of the novel reminded me of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (review) for some reason, as well as the out-there-ness of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (review). Plus, taxidermy, which is something I don’t encounter much…anywhere, really. So yeah, I was looking forward to reading this book.
Well, okay, it wasn’t quite so much like Burial Rites. At first it didn’t feel quite so Gothic or forbidding as the premise made it sound, but as you read further and people start disappearing and Connie starts remembering things from her “vanishing days”, it really starts feeling quite eerie. The town that Connie lives in feels quite remote from the rest of the country, I forget that it’s even set in England prior to World War One to be honest. And it always feels like it’s gloomy and rainy, so there’s my forbidding moors for you. Not quite as atmospheric as Sepulchre (review) but once the mystery really hits its stride and presents itself fully does the story really take off.
The characters in this novel were interesting enough. I thought it was interesting to have Connie and Harry Woolston as the primary protagonists (Connie moreso than Harry, but Harry nonetheless gets a POV) trying to figure what is going on and how their fathers are involved in this strange situation happening, working together with the clues they have. Connie was such a strong character despite of the accident she sustained as a child and dealing with her father’s drinking, their seeming isolation from the rest of the town. I love the characters that support her along the way: Mary her maid, Mrs. Christie, Davey, Harry. The mystery itself was interesting enough as I was left wondering exactly what happened, who was after all of these people, and what exactly it is in Connie’s past that she had forgotten that may hint as to what went down way back when.
Overall The Taxidermist’s Daughter was an interesting read. The taxidermy, the setting, and the gradual fleshing-out of the mystery really set the tone and growing eerieness of the story. Wasn’t quite as absorbing or atmospheric as I thought it would be but it did keep my attention throughout. I say it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a historical fiction to read with a perplexing, eerie mystery.