Review: Shadows of Swanford Abbey

OVERVIEW

Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen in this atmospheric Regency tale brimming with mystery, intrigue, and romance.

When Miss Rebecca Lane returns to her home village after a few years away, her brother begs for a favor: go to nearby Swanford Abbey and deliver his manuscript to an author staying there who could help him get published. Feeling responsible for her brother’s desperate state, she reluctantly agrees.

The medieval monastery turned grand hotel is rumored to be haunted. Once there, Rebecca begins noticing strange things, including a figure in a hooded black gown gliding silently through the abbey’s cloisters. For all its renovations and veneer of luxury, the ancient foundations seem to echo with whispers of the past–including her own. For there she encounters Sir Frederick–magistrate, widower, and former neighbor–who long ago broke her heart.

When the famous author is found murdered in the abbey, Sir Frederick begins questioning staff and guests and quickly discovers that several people held grudges against the man, including Miss Lane and her brother. Haunted by a painful betrayal in his past, Sir Frederick searches for answers but is torn between his growing feelings for Rebecca and his pursuit of the truth. For Miss Lane is clearly hiding something. . . .

MY REVIEW

Disclaimer: Although I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Mysteries abound at a dissolved nunnery turned hotel in Julie Klassen’s newest novel from Bethany House. Since Shadows of Swanford Abbey is Christian fiction, however, it’s unlikely that ghosts are to blame. There must be a logical reason for the mysterious figure seen at night because it surely can’t be a deceased nun, right? That is what the 21st century reader would probably conclude anyway. But Klassen’s lead character is a 19th century woman, and she’s not entirely certain what she keeps seeing.

Rebecca is a well-traveled lady’s companion, but life hasn’t exactly been fun since her brother suffered a traumatic brain injury. A long overdue visit home finds her brother and his staff hasn’t prepared for her arrival, and she must stay at the nearby hotel along with her employer and other unique individuals. Here she meets with old acquaintances and makes new friends and discover everyone has a past haunts haunting them.

 Although Christmas is a wonderful time for spooky tales, and this novel was released in December 2020, Shadows of Swanford Abbey is a great book to curl up with on any winter evening. It provided me with an escape from the wintery mix coming down outside and I found I could easily visualize most of the action, much like I was watching a movie or mini-series. The plot consists of a variety of characters who could all easily have motives, and has a slow and steady, yet interesting, build up to the reveal. You could say I wasn’t totally stunned by the identity of the murderer, but it wasn’t someone I’d had on my list of suspects. And, while there is a required Happy Ever After, I couldn’t help but feel sad for the way things turned out for a couple of the characters by the end.

Coincidentally, I’d just finished reading a non-fiction book about an English monastic community turned country estate called Battle Abbey. Growing up in Yorkshire, the dissolved monasteries I knew had either been left to ruin or become parish churches, so I didn’t realize that some had been converted into private dwellings until reading that book. Klassen used another of these converted properties, Lacock Abbey, and its history as the basis for Swanford Abbey, and now I want to see it in person.

RATING

5/5

BOOK INFORMATION

Publisher: Bethany House (a division of Baker Publishing)

Publication Date: 07 December 2021

Book Information

Excerpt

JULIE KLASSEN

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold over a million copies, and she is a three-time recipient of the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction. Julie has also won the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing’s BEST Award and has been a finalist in the RITA and Carol Awards. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. She and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.julieklassen.com

THE SETTING

Julie Klassen’s inspiration for Swanford Abbey was Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, England. Lacock was founded as a nunnery in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, and Klassen also borrowed this narrative for the fictional Swanford Abbey. The convent didn’t escape Henry VIII’s dissolution and was closed in 1539.

The estate soon passed to one of the king’s trusted courtiers, Sir William Sheringham, who transformed it into his country house. He incorporated the cloister into the design and added an octagonal tower. The house eventually passed to the Talbot family and, in 1944, a Talbot descendant gave the estate to the National Trust.

Visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village for a glimpse at this historic building.

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