I nearly didn’t pick up The Crimson Rooms when I spotted it in the library. I knew that I had two of Katharine McMahon’s books, unread, on my shelves at home already. But it was a shiny new copy and the cover was beautiful, so I ficked it up to see what it was about. And I was quickly intrigued by the subject matter.
The year is 1924 and Evelyn Gifford is one of Britain’s first woman lawyers. It hasn’t been easy. She has met with much prejudice, but she has finally secured a job with Daniel Breen a lawyer prepared to cock a snook at the establishment.
Evelyn is an engaging character, and you cannot help being drawn into her story and willing her on.
She lives at home with her mother, aunt, and grandmother. A family left rudderless by the death of Evelyn’s brother James in the Great War.
Family life is disrupted when the doorbell rings late one night and a woman appears, claiming to have mothered James’s child. Evelyn believes her – the child bears a striking resemblance to James – but she is troubled. What does Meredith want? Why didn’t she make herself known before? And how will this change things?
Eventually Evelyn gets some answers, but they are not easy to accept.
Merdith is an extraordinary character with a remarkable, and moving, tale to tell. I could have happily spent an entire book with her.
Meanwhile, Evelyn has landed her most interesting legal cases to date
The first is that of Leah Marchant, a single mother who gave up her children when she couldn’t cope. Now she wants them back, but the authorities aren’t ready to hand them over.
Leah believes it is because she has a woman representing her – and Evelyn wonders if that might be true.
The second is of Stephen Wheeler, an old acquaintance of Evelyn’s employer, charged with murdering his wife. Facts emerge that suggest he may be innocent, but he wont talk. Why?
The answertakes time and effort to uncover. It is profound, it is rooted in the Great War, and the end of this particular case brought me to tears.
And Evelyn’s life is further complicated by the fact she becomes involved with a fellow lawyer.
Some of the storylines don’t quite feel as if they belong together, but each holds sufficient interest to ensure that Crimson Rooms, as a whole, works.
The prejudice and unfair treatment that Evelyn receives is infuriating, but, sadly, utterly believable.
Katharine McMahon has chosen her themes well – many still resonate today – and the details are perfect.
A mother who doesn’t inderstand her daughter’s choices. A support network of professional women.The long shadow of war. This really is a book with a lot to say.
Lovely writing too, with the period, the settings and a wide range of characters beautifully created. A lovely piece of old fashioned storytelling.
The ending tied everything up nicely, but I’d love to know more and follow Evelyn – and Meredith – further into the future.
I’d definitely pick up a sequel – and Katharine McMahon‘s other books should be coming off the shelves before too long.