Children of the Plantation by Faith Mortimer

Plantation

I appear to be reading the Diana Rivers Mysteries in the wrong order since I started with number two and have just read number six but that doesn’t matter at all as each book is complete in itself with the mystery solved by novelist “Diana Rivers”.

However in “Children of the Plantation” Diana takes a back seat for most of the storyline, reading about a murder, which took place many years before, through the diaries of two members of a family.  This novel is set in a hotel near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where Diana and her husband have gone for a relaxing holiday.  Originally the hotel was a house belonging to Sir Winston Chalcot who ran a rubber plantation and his daughter still lives there.  Miss Chalcot gives Diana the diary of Sir Winston’s wife Eleanor and that of their child Alex, asking her to put them together into an accurate family history which would, “put things straight.”

Lady Eleanor’s diary introduce her as a dreamy, unhappy woman in the early 1950s travelling back to England on her own, leaving her two daughters, without telling her husband that she is pregnant.  During the voyage she meets forthright, independent Hermione, who is to become a major part of Eleanor’s life.

Diana moves on to the diary of Alex in the 1960s when he, his mother and Aunt Hermione are back in Malaya with Sir Winston and his two daughters Emma and Felicity.  Alex has an awkward relationship with siblings Emma and Felicity but regularly goes out riding with them.  Sir Winston trusts the running of the rubber estate to a young local man, Paul Tan, whom Emma and Felicity find attractive despite his being outside their social circle.  Alex spies on everyone including Paul and his sisters but as Paul trains him to run the estate they become close.

The diaries are written as narrative which seems strange but allows the reader to become fully involved.  As Diana Rivers is pregnant she does not take an active part in investigating the disaster which occurred in the Chalcot household but realising that she is, “waking a sleeping dragon,” she figures out something of what has happened.  I was just beginning to guess the twist at the end as I reached it, but it was a successful surprise, as all the clues were subtle.

I very much enjoyed this step back into mid-20th century history and the atmosphere Faith has created is reminiscent of L.P. Hartley’s “The Go-Between”.  Her description of the tropical environment reminded me of travelling through Malaya to visit Fraser’s Hill when I was a child in the 1960s.  This peaceful setting contrasts well with the undercurrent of fear and danger both in local politics and the story’s plot.

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A Deadly Learning by Faith Mortimer

Faith

A Diana Rivers Mystery

This is the sixth book in the series of mysteries solved by “author” Diana Rivers, but as the real author, Faith Mortimer says, each one can be read in isolation.

Diana Rivers and her husband Steve have decided to take a break from their home in Cyprus by going to stay with their old friend, Wendy, who is assistant head at Lagos International School and College in Portugal.  She has asked them to come to help celebrate the twenty first birthday of her god-daughter, Louise.

But their relaxing holiday is soon interrupted by a gruesome discovery, buried behind a wall in the cellar of the science block which is being renovated.  The remains of the body have been there for three years and while Steve has to travel to Lisbon and London, Diana applies her detecting abilities to solving this murder.  She questions students and staff, putting herself in severe danger.  Many of them are involved in illegal and unpleasant activities which they wish to remain secret, whether or not there is a connection to the body.

Louise is a worry to both Diana and Wendy as she has become involved with a fellow student, who is a particularly unpleasant young man, affecting both her studies and her behaviour.  The staff are a disparate group of men and women, young and mature, who also have their own problems and no-one can be excluded from the investigation, especially after another death occurs.

There are a large cast of characters in this story but they are clearly described with well-defined characteristics and the reader feels that Diana is a safe pair of hands even if she is rather fool-hardy.  The mystery is maintained almost to the last page, in a very complex plot.

I read this while staying in the Algarve, which I know well, and although I could imagine the rather different environment of a college, I didn’t feel a strong sense of place beyond the scenes on the beach.

I will certainly read another “Diana Rivers” mystery even though she is so annoyingly perfect, as Faith Mortimer writes fluent enjoyable prose keeping me guessing up to the last minute.

Rosie's Book Review team 1