Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her–a longtime friend–has fallen for her younger, prettier sister.
When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll’s house left mid-play . . .
The handsome local curate welcomes them, but though he and his family seem to know something about the manor’s past, the only information they offer Abigail is a warning: Beware trespassers who may be drawn by rumors that Pembrooke contains a secret room filled with treasure.
Hoping to improve her family’s financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?
Julie Klassen is an author who I’ve seen on many, many shelves during my book shopping excursions and I’ve seen a lot of my friends reading her books, but I’ve just never tried one of her stories before. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was recommended by a friend of mine, and she insisted that this was a great first book to read by Julie Klassen! She let me borrow the book and that is how Pembrooke Park became my next literary destination ahead of other books on my TBR.
The Secret of Pembrooke Park was truly an eventful and page-turning story. I read it in two or three sittings, which makes it hard to believe that the book is nearly 500 pages long. I never felt as if the story lagged or wasted my time; there were so many plot twists and exciting mysteries that it really felt like as if it ended too soon! I could have spent much more time with Abigail and William!
Speaking of Abigail and William, is there truly a more perfect pair for this story? I loved Abigail, which is not something that I often say about historical fiction heroines–especially women that are usually labeled as the “practical” or “sensible” ones of society. Most of them are quite dry and boring, however, Abigail was relatable and though she was usually reserved and mature, she could still have fun and get into a little trouble when the opportunity arose! William was adorable. I tried to think of another description for him, but that’s the only word that seems to come to mind. He was just…adorable. His antics made me smile and I usually found myself laughing whenever he was in a scene because though he was the pastor, he was still a good-natured young man and successfully filled my favorite romantic role of “the boy next door”!
The mystery was very well done! There are some twists and surprises that some readers can guess, and there are others that are a complete shock, so I found that mixture to be very satisfying in the realm of suspense. There are many Christian elements to the story as well: briefly written out sermons, deep discussions about faith, scripture that is quoted, and even an actual presentation of the Gospel to other characters (which I found very refreshing because I don’t see that often).
Overall, I really enjoyed The Secret of Pembrooke Park and will certainly have to pick up some more of Julie Klassen’s novels! I give it 5 out of 5 stars!
Trigger Warnings: Murder–not detailed. Domestic abuse–mildly detailed. Some spooks–mentions of ghosts. Romance is limited to semi-detailed kissing and thoughts on marriage by multiple characters; there is also some implied scandal about other characters. One scene in the book seems to be getting a bad rep in other Christian reviews: William makes a comment about “making passionate love” to Abigail in order to make another man jealous at a ball and it’s played off as quite normal in the scene. Obviously, this phrase has a very different meaning these days than it did during the historic period of this book, but just so it’s said, that is the only directly sexual comment that I picked up on in the entire book, and I took it to mean “flirting” because the alternative meaning would not have fit in this story anywhere (obviously), especially in the context of the scene in particular!