In Julie Klassen’s The Secret of Pembrooke Park, Abigail Foster and her family are forced from their spacious town home in London to a more provincial life in the country because of an unwise financial investment. However, all is not well in their new abode. Rumors, secrets, and mysteries abound as the new family is viewed with suspicion. Will Abigail be able to find sufficient answers to questions that have held the estate empty, or will she stumble on danger instead?
The setting of The Secret of Pembrooke Park is clearly homage to Jane Austen as the reader is transported back to Regency England, complete with old manors and new dresses for every social invitation. To Klassen’s credit, the English language and landscape come alive on every page as the characters go about their business.
Abigail is a strong female lead who is likable and sympathetic. Her multi-faceted personality makes her realistic and empathetic. The dialogue is sufficiently British, lively, and entertaining as the characters interact with one another. The only false notes happen when the characters are discussing theology which, at times, sounds preachy. The plot was by far the greatest strength of the novel. It has plenty of unpredictable twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end.
There are two main weaknesses in The Secret of Pembrooke Park. First, the story is told in two points of view: those of William and Abigail. I found William’s point of view to be unnecessary and uninteresting. The novel could have been told through Abigail alone, which would have been just as effective. As it is, there are times when the point of view switches in the middle of the scene, interrupting the flow of a great plot and causing confusion.
The second major weakness of the novel is the unrealistic portrayal of the romantic relationship between William and Abigail. Considering both their reputations, societal norms of the Victorian Era, and William’s position as a pastor, he would never have acted as forward and familiar with Abigail as he does in the book. It is completely out of character and, frankly, unbelievable.
With these things in mind, Julie Klassen’s The Secret of Pembrooke Park is a great escape to the English countryside where Jane Austen’s portrait of provincial life meets Emily Bronte’s dark suspense.
I was given a free copy by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.