If you enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit by reading holiday themed books, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep, the first book in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, will fit the bill with its combination of mystery and Victorian-era holiday setting. Agatha Christie lovers should take notice, because this novel is reminiscent of her books.
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About the book:
In December, 1851, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious invitation to travel to Bleakly Manor over the Christmas holidays. As she is destitute after being left at the altar by her fiance and abandoned by her father, she feels she has nothing to lose and much to gain by accepting the offer. The verse inside says that if she stays at the manor for the entire 12 nights, she will receive five hundred much-needed pounds that would help to get her life back on track. Benjamin Lane, imprisoned for nearly a year due to his fiancee Clara’s setting him up as a thief, is also offered a similar opportunity to go to Bleakly Manor for 12 nights, his reward would be his freedom.
When Clara arrives at Bleakly Manor, she finds other guests who received their own invitations with their own secret promises should they stay the course. No one present, not even the staff, seems to know who their host is, and the host does not appear to be among the group. When Clara and Ben come face to face again, each has a strong negative reaction to the other, but it soon becomes apparent that they will need to work together in order to make it through and out of the situation unscathed.
I loved this gothic holiday tale! I am a huge Agatha Christie fan and this book is reminiscent of And Then There Were None, but also with homage paid to Bleak House by Charles Dickens. The novel is fast paced and interesting, because readers will want to discover the rewards each of the guests are hoping to receive, as well as who is behind the offers and who actually owns Bleakly Manor. There’s also the matter of Clara and Ben’s relationship–both feel that the other has wronged them, so there’s the mystery of what exactly happened between the two–did Clara truly set Ben up? Did Ben actually steal from Clara? It’s not clear at first if one of them is lying or if there’s a bigger story behind what happened. I don’t want to give too much away, because part of the fun of this novel is in the way it unfolds with the characters. Lest it seem as if it’s just a mystery tale, there’s a great deal of heartwarming content as each of the guests comes to understand more about themselves and the other people. Some change for the better, some for the worse, but 12 Days at Bleakly Manor is as much a story of personal growth and understanding about life as it is a fascinating mystery (and it is that).
I actually would have enjoyed more character-building, especially with some of the supporting cast of characters. It would have been a wonderful addition to get some more background information about each one as their stories are revealed. Overall the book is fairly short and not super surprising, but for a cozy holiday tale, it definitely provides a feel-good story with a touch of intrigue to keep you interested throughout.
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I received a complimentary review copy of this book, all opinions are my own.