Book review: All the Dark Secrets by Jennie Felton
A real-life mining disaster in 19th century Somerset was the inspiration behind an enthralling new saga from a leading light in the world of women’s fiction.
Jennie Felton – who already has a fine clutch of books under the names of Janet Tanner and Amelia Carr – writes her stories straight from the heart, and All the Dark Secrets is the first of what promises to be an exciting new series.
Only a few miles from Felton’s home town of Radstock in Somerset, twelve miners died at Wells Way Coal Works in 1839 when a rope snapped as they were descending into the pit. Popular belief has it that the rope was maliciously cut, although nobody was ever arrested.
Set almost 60 years later in 1895, The Families of Fairley Terrace sagas chart the fortunes and misfortunes of the people who live in a row of ten houses in a small village caught up in a terrible tragedy.
There will be romance, drama, trials and triumphs as the residents, all bound together by the colliery which they overlook, face an uncertain future and the bitter legacy of shocking events.
Maggie Donovan grew up in a tough mining area but she has always been a cut above. Despite her Irish-born father Paddy’s addiction to alcohol and gambling, she’s done well for a Donovan and found work as a sales assistant at a smart drapery shop.
The Donovans are the poorest family in Fairley Terrace, known locally as the Ten Houses, but Maggie is engaged to neighbour Jack Withers, a hard-working, dependable young man who works at nearby Shepton Fields colliery.
Maggie is only too aware that Jack would make an ideal husband but, deep inside, she knows he doesn’t make her heart sing.
When tragedy strikes at the pit, the residents of the ten houses suffer more than one loss and Maggie’s world comes tumbling down. Turning for comfort to Jack’s wild and charmingly roguish brother Josh, she finds a sudden and undeniable passion instead.
But any future with Josh Withers seems a betrayal of her past, and Maggie realises that the only way to survive is to conceal a very dark secret of her own...
All the Dark Secrets sweeps us back to a time of struggle and hardship in a story packed with high emotion, dramatic landscapes and the harsh realities of living and working in a mining community.
Using her own family experiences, Felton evokes time and place with compelling authenticity, and conjures up a feisty heroine and a cast of engaging characters.
And hold onto your hats for The Miner’s Daughter, next book in the Families of Fairley Terrace series.
(Headline, paperback, £6.99)