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.