The stars are aligning for our Editor’s Pick: the dazzlingly intriguing THE ALMANACK by Martine Bailey.
1752, Midsummer. Following a desperate summons from her mother, Tabitha Hart departs London for her home village of Netherlea – only to discover that her mother has allegedly drowned. Determined to discover the truth about the Widow Hart’s death, Tabitha consults her mother’s almanack and uncovers a series of cryptic notes describing her terror of someone she names only as ‘D’.
Joining forces with mysterious young writer Nat Starling, Tabitha begins a race against time to unmask ‘D’ as more murders follow. But as the sun retreats and snow cuts off Netherlea from the outside world, Tabitha and Nat are forced to face the darkest hours of their lives. With the Almanack predicting the year will reach a ‘violent, bloody end’, can Tabitha survive to bring her mother’s killer to justice?
Before reading this intricately plotted and absorbing tale, I must confess I was not very knowledgeable about the movements of the planets, or almanacks, but I was drawn into Tabitha’s starry world from the very first page – or, more accurately, the first riddle! Used to living on her wits, Tabitha is clever, feisty and mischievous, never wavering in her mission to unmask her mother’s killer, while also falling for the handsome, rakish romantic, Nathaniel Starling.
The combination of vividly realised characters, folklore, superstition and no less than fifty brain-teasing riddles – one at the start of each chapter – left me struggling to tear my eyes, and my mind, away. But at the heart of this darkly fascinating mystery lies the most perplexing enigma of all: who is the mysterious ‘D’? Could it be Darius, a local ne’er-do-well, Parson Dilks, Sir John De Vallory, Lady Daphne, Nell Dainty, the dogman up at the kennels… or, as his mother is named Hannah Dove, could it even be Nathaniel himself? After much pondering over such a conundrum, the ending satisfies on many levels, revealing not only a chilling murderer but also, most gratifyingly, the solutions to the riddles.
If you enjoy richly told historical mysteries full of spirit and a good dose of superstition, my own humble prognostication for 2019 is that THE ALMANACK will dazzle and intrigue you in equal measure, as well as leaving you ever so slightly twinkly-eyed!
THE ALMANACK is available from 31 January in the UK and 1 May in the US. Read more here.