Martha and David Winter have raised their three children, Bill, Daisy, Florence and grandchild, Cat, in an idyllic home in Somerset named Winterfold. A ‘gentle, honest house, every inch of it made with care, refashioned with love’. All Martha and David had ever wanted was to ‘make a home, a place unlike their past. To give their children a childhood that would stay with them. To work hard, together. Be happy’.
However, it is now, after forty-five years of living at Winterfold and on the occasion of her upcoming 80th birthday, that Martha has taken the decision ‘to tear her family apart’. Martha’s husband, David, the famous Wilbur cartoonist, has just gone down to London to presumably discuss the details of an upcoming exhibition, and Martha sits down to write the invite to her far away children and grandchildren requesting their presence at Winterfold for the two day birthday celebration in November. A day to include drinks with family and friends and a lunch the next day for ‘family only’ at which a ‘important announcement’ is to be made.
Martha’s cryptic message sets in motion a series of events that take on a domino effect. Unknown to Martha, she is not the only Winter with a secret. Her invite, once in the hands of its recipients, conjures up the past of long-ago buried memories and threatens the exposure of personal secrets best kept concealed; Secrets if revealed would shatter not only the lives of the Winters themselves but those closely associated with them as well. Matters are not helped when Lucy, Martha’s granddaughter, decides to write a piece about the family history, for the daily tabloid she works for. Understandably, none agree to co-operate, each for their own reasons.
The core of the story revolves mainly around the Winter’s middle child Daisy. All we know about her is that she is the inspiration for David’s children’s series ‘Wilbur and Daisy’ and that she fell pregnant at a very young age, only to abandon her child soon after preferring to help the less fortunate in India. It is evident early on in the novel, from the only chapter about her written as a diary entry when she was eight years old, that she is a very troubled character, unpleasant and mean to her brother (called him Billy Lily) and her two sisters especially Florence who she not only wanted to get rid of but blamed for moving to Winterfold, a place she hated from the very beginning. A dark character, ‘accidents’ have been known to occur when she is around. Her only loyalty is to her dog Wilbur whom she ‘loves more than anyone else in the whole world’. What we do know for sure though, is that it is the idea that Daisy will be present at the gathering that is setting everyone on edge.
The Winter children are coming home except for Bill who never left Somerset choosing to remain close to his parents working as the town doctor. His second wife, Karen, has a secret of her own and wonders whether Martha has caught her out. She is after all, having an affair. Florence, now fifty, is a professor of art working in Italy. She will embark on the journey that has taken her twenty years to make to face her fears, realising with dread that she might know why her mother has summoned all of them back. Cat, a once promising fashion journalist is now penniless, ‘selling potted plants’ in a flower market in Paris. She is coming home too. But is it all too late? And what will her family think of this ‘different Cat now, the one she had always secretly feared becoming? A Cat who when doors bang she jumps. Will she be forced to reveal her secret too?
And then there is Joe, the chef that Martha has hired to cater for the celebration. Somehow he has found himself caught up unawares with the Winters. Bill saves his life (or finger more like it), Lucy, Bill’s daughter has a huge crush on him and all the time he is desperately missing his son Jamie, who lives with his ex-wife and her new wealthy boyfriend.
In this first part of the series Harriet Harman lays the foundation for a very promising, thrilling mystery novel. The characters are very engaging and it is easy to see readers choosing favourites early on. I know I have. And I know one more thing that is certain to happen too: Once you start reading you won’t want to stop. Why? Because the Winters have a way in which ‘they pulled you all in, all of them, without stopping to ask if you wanted to – it was crazy, charming, discombobulating’. I couldn’t agree more!
Bring on the next part I say!