The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine #bookreview

A mystery novel set in the past and present.  Our leading lady is Evie Lucas, a young aspiring war artist, torn between her love for a dashing young pilot and her responsibilities to her family.  Our supporting lady is Lucy Standish, art historian and recent widow who is trying to put together a biography of Evie.  How do the events and emotions of the past make their presence known today, what will be the impact on Lucy and why do some people not want the story to be told?
Erskine’s opening to The Darkest Hour is filled with tension and emotion as Laurence Standish, husband of Lucy, is driven off the road in a suspicious accident and dies.   Who was following him, we don’t know, why they were following him, we don’t know – a fantastic opening, I was hooked.
Erskine has obviously done her research, the book is filled with history and the pictures painted of Sussex during World War II are vivid and powerful.  It was no surprise to find out, after completing the book, that Erskine is a historian by training.  Beyond setting a wonderful scene the characters in the book have great depth and personality.  It is very clear from the early chapters who the badie of the story is; but as to the lengths they will go to win, those continually shocked and surprised me as the story unwound.
The past in this books is very real with a haunted picture at the heart of the story.  At the first reference to paranormal activity, I must admit I was a tad sceptical and for a moment doubted the quality of the story yet as I continued I saw how cleverly woven and entwined it is.  Erskine uses it as a way to bring characters from the past to the present and in doing so allows us to gain insight into their persona, motivations and regrets.  There is nothing ghoulish or Blair witch project about the way Erskine writes about the supernatural.  She clearly has a great interest and respect for things other worldly and as you read through the moment and the experience you can’t help but feel a chill creep down your spine and goose bumps on your arms.
I’m big fan of this style writing, blending the past and present in a mystery having previously read lots of Rachel Hore and Kate Morton.  The Darkest Hour is filled with passion, anger, love, remorse, regret and grief as we are given the opportunity to experience the life and loves of Evie Lucas.  What are her secrets, why would there be objections to her story being told? I won’t answer those questions, it would spoil the book for you but I will definitely be picking up another Barbara Erskine book.

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