Cousin Kate

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Kate Malvern is in desperate straights. She has no family left in the world to take her in, she believes, and so stays with her old nursery maid while considering a job in the working class as a governess, companion or abigail. At her old nurse’s urging a letter is sent to some distant relations in the neighborhood, to everyone’s surprise the relations respond and soon Cousin Kate finds herself settling in at a place called Staplewood with her aunt and uncle and cousin Torquil. The family is strange though, her cousin lives off in one wing, while her uncle lives in another. No one is responding to the letters she sends, and bizarre events begin to unfold. Her aunt’s unexpected generosity may have come at a steep price.

Has it occurred to you, Kate, that she is placing you under an obligation?”
       “Oh, yes, indeed it has, and it is crushing me!” she said earnestly. “If only there were some way of requiting her – not arranging flowers, or entertaining Sir Timothy, or bearing Torquil company, but a big thing! Something that was vital to her, or – or even something that entailed a sacrifice! But there isn’t anything that I can discover.”
        There was a pause, during which he frowned down at his well-kept finger-nails. At length he said slowly: “If she were to demand it of you, would you be prepared to make a sacrifice of yourself?”

This novel is quite different from a lot of Georgette Heyer’s other pieces. It’s very dark first off, more of a gothic novel than any thing else with many spooky events and unsettling discoveries not to mention the impending sense of doom when the realization is reached that Kate is in fact trapped at Staplewood. I have to say that this novel did scare me a bit at times and make it not so easy to get back to sleep after staying up reading it late at night. But, then again, I am a huge sissy, so it’s good to keep that in mind if you are more used to the horror genre.

One of the things I like so much about Heyer’s novels is her deep character studies and Cousin Kate is no different. In fact in this novel she takes it a step further and addresses the very real concerns about how mental illness was treated and the attitude towards it during the regency. Very spooky, no wonder the gothic genre even arose in the first place. No doubt it was from households like these.

Of course, you can’t have a Georgette Heyer without the romance. Cousin Phillip is yet another cousin of the establishment that comes to visit at this awkward time and good thing too! He at first believes her to be after the family money but soon realizes something far more sinister is afoot, and Kate is the target of it. Really, I found the misunderstandings these two continually went through to be surprisingly endearing. Normally I can’t stand for characters to make a muddle of things. But, with everything else going on around them I could hardly blame them.

I almost feel like this should be in a spoiler tag of some sort, but I found knowing this in advance helped greatly in my reading it. I always like to have warning in advance of this sort of thing. One of the characters will be murdered in the course of the novel. Which one it is you will have to read to find out!

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