“Love, lust and the Cornish sea pound through this saga of a 19th century family.” EVENING STANDARD.
For Harriet Delvaney, the great house of Menfreya, standing like a fortress on the Cornish coast, has always been a citadel of happiness and high spirits. Not until she herself comes to Menfreya as a bride does Harriet discover its legend of infidelity, jealousy and murder. And not until that legend comes dangerously to life does Harriet begin to believe the old story that when the tower clock of Menfreya stops, it means that someone is about to die…
“Sinister… a splendidly wild background.” BOOKS AND BOOKMEN.
Our first encounter with Harriet Delvaney is as a thirteen year old runaway – fleeing the confining, hostile environment of her father’s grand London house to hide out in an abandoned old cottage on an island just off the Cornish coast.
From here she gazes across the dawn-lit sea towards Menfreya, an enchanting stately manor sprawled across the cliff top. Home to the Menfrey’s and more castle than house, Menfreya’s gothic turrets, machicolated towers and ancient flint walls symbolise for Harriet everything she has been longing for in her short, sad life – romance, intrigue, mystery and adventure.
Fast forward a few years and Harriet’s adolescent dreams have come true. Now a wealthy heiress and married to the dashingly handsome Bevil Menfrey, she has become mistress of Menfreya. However, this being a gothic romance, the best of times very quickly sour into the worst of nightmares for our heroine, with madness, murder, treachery and rape being just a few of the ordeals she finds herself enduring. Worse still are the mercurial moods and roving eyes of husband Bevil, forcing Harriet to ask herself – did he marry her for love or for a reason much more sinister?
Menfreya is a great read full of all the usual ingredients beloved by fans of Victoria Holt’s novels – gorgeous settings oozing atmosphere, a likeable heroine who is feminine without being flighty partnered alongside a dangerously rakish leading man whose motives will keep you guessing right till the end. It’s a familiar formula yes, but in Holt’s hands never predictable and I love the way she weaves complex family histories and mythologies so effortlessly into her books, creating back-stories which are just as engrossing as the main plot of the novel itself.
I have three copies of this book. My favourite by far being the older Fontana edition with its wild n’ wuthering crimson-stained sky. I got this from Healthy Planet, complete with a stamp on the inside cover asking me to pass this book on once I have read it… but I think I’ll be keeping this one for some time yet!