Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey

What begins as a trip to do research for an upcoming book turns into a real-life mystery for television producer Catherine Bailey.  The Secret Rooms reads like something in a PBS Masterpiece or Downton Abbey script:  historian goes to giant English castle to research for a book and is let into a series of rooms that have been completely sealed off for more than 60 years.  While going through the extensive trove of family letters, she notices that all of the letters from the person she is most interested in, John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, are missing for about six months of World War I.  Not only that: all of the letters from all of the family members are missing during the exact same dates.  Another queer fact pops up during this mystery: John died in the series of rooms where all of the family records were kept though he was suffering from a preventable illness.  What was he feverishly working on until the moment of his death?  Her original book idea abandoned due to a lack of primary sources, the thought continually nags at her: why, if the 9th Duke was such a meticulous records keeper, would such a large bunch of letters be missing?  What transpires is a twisting hunt through decades of family and government records. 

After much searching, Bailey discovers that there was not one gap in the family’s letters, but three.  Once again, not only John’s letters, but those of the entire family were missing for the periods beginning on August 23rd 1894, June 6th 1909 and July 7th 1915.  While she surmises that the gap in 1915 could potentially have something to do with the war, the gaps for 1909 (when John was stationed at the British Embassy in Rome) and the gap in 1894 (when John was only eight years old) are particularly puzzling.  Was John hiding something that he did or was he covering for someone else?

Bailey takes us on a thrilling ride through the early 20th British aristocracy and the secrets they kept.  This book is a great choice for both readers who enjoy the writing style of Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and those who enjoy the world of Downton AbbeyThe Secret Rooms is a fascinating true history of a family who would do almost anything to see their estate and way of life survive.  

Check out The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey @ the library!