“So what about crows? I know crows don’t go about in groups so much, but if there was to be a whole lot of them together, then what?”
Connie looked back to the display case: four birds, representing four men? The members of the Corvidae Club?
“A murder,” she said. “It’s a murder of crows.”
The Taxidermist’s Daughter is one part historical fiction, one part thriller, and one part horror. A murder shocks the members of a sleepy little village in Edwardian England. Simultaneously, several well-known members of the village disappear, including the father of our protagonist, Constantia Gifford. The titular taxidermist’s daughter winds up caught in a story that goes, to use the old cliché, deeper than she ever than she ever could have imagined, and the more she uncovers, the more she learns about her missing past.
Author Kate Mosse (that’s Mosse with an e, mind you, not Kate Moss the model) conjures a dark atmosphere. Setting the novel in her home county of Sussex, she feels at home setting scenes- painting pictures swamplands and roiling skies and angry seas. Like in a good movie, he visuals create a mood for the reader that compliments the story. In fact the book is very cinematic in the way it is told, the terrifingly original climax almost begging for David Fincher to ask for a screenplay.
Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is that while it plays out like a modern thriller, the literary elements are there as well. There are themes and symbols and motifs to dissect that a lot of page-turners leave out, and so there’s a re-read value here. When you’re finished and all the missing pieces of the puzzle are revealed, you’re left thinking on deeper meanings and wondering if another read will offer more insights. A good book will entertain you for the ride, but only great ones will make you want to ride again.
But, unfortunately it kind of teeters on the line between good and great for me. The plot and the atmosphere and the characters are all great, but a few things hold it down. And I’ll admit some of them are nitpicks of mine, like asking questions in narration, like in the sample at the start. A few times you’ll read narration that works well and gets you to question something about the story, and then you’ll immediately read that question spelled out for you, like you’re stupid. The climax is, as I mentioned, terrifingly original and chilling, but the very very end, the dénouement, doesn’t quite stick the landing. There’s an epilogue that just feels jarringly out-of-place tonally. I feel like Mosse was unsure of what note to leave the book on, so she ended up tacking on an epilogue that probably needed reworking.
Still, these things are relatively minor and the vast remainder of the novel is compulsive page-turning fun and horror. Her blend of realism and macabre is a refreshing niche that reinforces something I’ve believed in for many years. To quote Nightwish: “careless realism costs souls.”