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by Catherine Bailey

5*

An absolutely corking tale, better by far than most novels I’ve read recently. I don’t think I’ve ever read a non-fic book with so many cliff-hangers.

My one and only bug bear (and it is but a small gripe) is with the chapters on the Great War where there is, to my mind, a lot of superfluous detail about the war. Obviously some historical background is necessary, to put the events of John’s life into context. I don’t think we needed quite so much as we got. I can’t help but feel that Catherine Bailey’s original intention to write a book about the Belvoir Volunteers – the ‘mysterious army of ploughmen, horsemen and field workers’, an entire generation lost to the war – meant she found herself a lot of surplus-to-requirements research on her hands that was such good stuff, she was determined to put it in anyway. It’s interesting stuff in its own right, but it’s not all pertinent to John’s story and it does slow the – otherwise terrific – pace dreadfully.

It is my only complaint and it’s a VERY small one. In every respect, this is a richly detailed, beautifully (but not overly) descriptive, engaging and terrifically well-written biography of a privileged life with more than its fair share of mysteries.

It’s a crying shame Ms Bailey never discovered the whole truth of about Haddon’s death (I so wanted to know!). It seems John covered the details around that particular tragedy far too well.

The Secret Rooms is a wonderfully good read. It’s 450 pages long and I read it in 3 days, I just couldn’t put it down. A brilliant book. Highly recommended.

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