In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway.
Standing alone is the taxidermist's daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford's once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum's closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.
The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead. While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible - and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father's workshop?
The Taxidermist's Daughter opens with one of the most chilling, gripping, and eerily written prologues I've read! Gothicly submlime you could say in every way encompassing a crime that opens the story. A woman's corpse gutted with chicken wire is found outside Blackthorn House, where Connie is attempting to stuff a jackdaw (a raven). Can it be the woman nicknamed "Birdie" by villagers?
You can count on Kate Mosse to give you the Gothic elements of suspense, juxtaposed against the underlying themes of illness, death, mourning, and grief. Loss and grief serve an underlying purpose for father and daughter within the secret they hold. If only Constantia could remember? Tragedy usually triggers a memory loss because it is often too painful to remember. It is the minds way of protecting the body; ones-self from the gutwrenching truth that they just cannot face. Constantia's father is no help; instead of grieving he is lost in alcohol and isolation. In order to help the family, Constantia carries on the family trade of taxidermy; in this case on jackdaws, crows, ravens...creepy stuff in and of itself. Murders seem to happen around Constantia or is it her memory trapped inside trying to come out? The presence of a handsome stranger coming to town distracts her for a while and brings an even more interesting element to this story.
I knew absolutely nothing about taxidermy when I began reading this novel. I must warn you that the descriptive writing of the cutting into bird skin, blood, guts, feathers, is not for the weak stomached. How fascinating to have the plot hinged upon such an unusual job by today's standards. However, during the nineteenth-century, taxidermy was considered a skill that one trained for and was a quite normal job to have! I still say, yuck...
As I became engrossed in the storyline, the characters came alive and I so urgently wanted to know this father's secret locked away not so hidden in his workshop. How did Constantia fit in with the secret? Her memory loss was an interesting catalyst for some incredible flashback death scenes. I couldn't believe taxidermy didn't put me off reading this novel but if anything it compelled me further on. I wanted to learn about taxidermy and if it was so prevalent during the nineteenth century?
A highlight to, 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' is the intricately placed section quotations taken from a taxidermy journal dating back to 1820. The author has done her research and once again shines in her storytelling. The layers of this tale are gently pulled back as the novel progresses and not every element is predictable. I am such an avid fan of Kate Mosse's writing and how she uses loss and grief as subject matter in her characters and novels that perhaps, she can do no wrong in my eyes. I did not find, 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' slow going in the beginning. I found it different and compelling learning about the father and daughter relationship, the maternal aspect and the presence of taxidermy. I hope anyone who is familiar with her 'Carcassone' trilogy will give The Taxidermist's Daughter a try for a different type of deathly read!
The Taxidermist's Daughter is not available for purchase in the U.S. yet.
To purchase it in the U.K. it was published in September of 2014, AmazonUK