Thursday, January 25, 2024

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Crestwell Hall by Alexandra Walsh

The Gunpowder Plot is a very famous event in British history, mostly thanks to the famous refrain of "Remember, remember the Fifth of November", and is still commemorated at bonfire nights each year in the UK. When I was young (as in back in the 70s- yes, I am that old) we still had Fireworks Night on 5 November each year, but I don't think it really happens here in Australia anymore.

The book opens with Isabella Lacey and her young daughter arriving for a new life at the stately home known as Crestwell Hall. Isabella's uncle previously owned the home, but now Isabella and Emily need a new start, and helping her aunt Thaiya resurrect the home feels like the perfect opportunity. She can put her ugly divorce behind her and hopefully provide a stable home for Emily.

Her Uncle Phillip was a collector of many historical items, and had always maintained that Crestwell Hall was connected to the failed Gunpowder Plot but no one knows why he was so adamant. What they do know is that there are a lot of historical artifacts that need to be sorted, catalogued and appraised. In order to start restoring the home, Isabella and her aunt really need an injection of funds, but they don't know exactly where that is going to come from. Could there be some hidden treasures in the house?

This is a dual time line novel and the historical plot derives from a very simple question. Did the wives of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot know what was going on? Did they know that the plan was to blow up parliament on the 5th of November 1605 with the aim of killing the king with the aim of then replacing him with a Catholic ruler. The most well known name is probably Guy Fawkes but there were many other people involved in the plot. That's a very over simplified summary, but still.

Our main character is Bess Throckmorton, also known Elizabeth, Lady Raleigh, wife to the imprisoned Sir Walter Raleigh, whose name resonates through history as explorer, privateer and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Now that the Queen has passed and King James is on the throne, Raleigh has been imprisoned as a traitor and Bess has to do what she needs to do to protect her young sons. 

Bess is related to most of the English aristocracy. Most of her family is Catholic but she and her immediate family are staunchly Protestant. That doesn't mean that she and her family are above suspicion when it comes to conspiracies, so when she starts hearing stories about yet another Catholic conspiracy, this time involving several of her male cousins, Bess knows that she could easily be implicated. She therefore starts reaching out to her female cousins (whether by blood or by marriage) to see what she can find out. After all, women are often invisible in the backgrounds and can quite often find out what their husbands, brothers and families are up to. What she learns horrifies her and she knows that she needs to do something to thwart the plan.

Bess is very resourceful, using her family connections to her advantage, and also in taking the necessary steps to ensure that her family is protected, especially if her husband remains in disgrace. An example of that is her ownership of Crestwell Hall, which has been carefully hidden so that no one can trace it back to her. There is a cast of characters at the beginning of the book to help see where all the family connections are, but there was still a lot of names to keep track of while you are reading.

I do love a book where the house has a key role to play and Crestwell Hall sounds like it would be absolutely fabulous to visit if it was real. There are hidden passageways, secrets hidden in plain sight and many previously undiscovered treasures which means that Isabella, her auntie, the mysterious Oliver and her friends who just happen to have very relevant and handy skills have their work cut out for them. I did enjoy the way that Isabella was able to slowly unveil the secrets that have been held by the house for centuries.

When I was thinking about what I was going to say, I realised that I haven't read many dual timelines recently. I know that a lot of people feel like they have been overdone but for the most part I like them, when they are done well that is. I thought that the author made some interesting choices, particularly as she was trying have some elements of the modern story line echo those from the historical time line. The reasons for conspiracies may be different, but there are still people who are sufficiently disenfranchised to feel that radical action required even today.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I read this author's previous book as well which had another interesting setting (an archeological dig in Crete) so I will be very interested to see what's coming next. Check out my review of The Forgotten Palace here.

I am sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge which I host. You can find out more about the challenge here. You can check out other participants in the tour below.

Rating 4.5/5

Thanks to Rachel's Random Resources, the author, publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. 

About the Book

The Secrets of Crestwell Hall

‘A king adorns the throne… He has no subtlety, no grace but he does not deserve to die in the way that has been planned and this is why we shall stop them, our men, our kin and save us all.’


Bess Throckmorton is well used to cunning plots and intrigues. With her husband Sir Walter Raleigh imprisoned in the Tower of London, and she and her family in a constant battle to outwit Robert Cecil, the most powerful man in the country who is determined to ruin her, Bess decides to retreat to her beloved home, Crestwell Hall. But there she is shocked to hear talk of a new plot to murder the king. So, unbeknownst to their menfolk, the wives of the plotters begin to work together to try to stop the impending disaster.

Present Day

Isabella Lacey and her daughter, Emily, are excited to be starting a new life at her aunt’s home, Crestwell Hall in Wiltshire. During renovations, Isabella discovers an ancient bible that once belonged to Bess Throckmorton, and to her astonishment finds that it doubled as a diary. As Isabella reads Bess’s story, a new version of the Gunpowder Plot begins to emerge - told by the women.

When Emily’s life is suddenly in terrible danger, Isabella understands the relentless fear felt by Bess, hundreds of years ago. And as the fateful date of 5th November draws ever closer, Bess and the plotters’ wives beg their husbands to stop before a chain of events is set into action that can only end one way…

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About the author

Alexandra Walsh is the bestselling author of dual timeline historical mysteries, previously published by Sapere. Her books range from the fifteenth century to the Victorian era and are inspired by the hidden voices of women that have been lost over the centuries. Formerly a journalist, writing for national newspapers, magazines and TV, her first book for Boldwood will be published in Spring 2023.

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1 comment:

  1. YEAH for adding your links to the renewed New Release Challenge link party!