Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Specimen by Martha Lea

Morning, everyone. Happy Valentine's Day! I swear I didn't purposely set this odd debut as my Valentine's post, it just ended up that way!

Seven years ago, young Gwen Carrick fell in love with Edward Scales. Now it's 1866 and Gwen has been charged with Edward's murder. Is she guilty? What events led to this tragic end? 

When they met in 1859, Gwen was living alone with her sister Euphemia, a famed spiritualist who specialized in contacting dead loved ones. To say the sisters didn't get along would be a vast understatement. In fact, their relationship was a strained coexistence. Gwen had a studious and scientific mind and longed for a life of respect and equality - one she could never expect as a woman. Scientific pursuits were simply not acceptable womanly studies. But Edward seemed to enjoy Gwen's mind. When he invited her to accompany him to Brazil, she believed it was because he valued her input and talents. Unfortunately, Edward was hiding many things from Gwen, things that could ruin her forever. 

The Specimen is a strange mystery and a greatly engrossing one at that. From the beginning, it becomes clear that the characters are hiding things, misrepresenting themselves, and - in some cases - deviously plotting against one another. Gwen's story comes out through flashbacks beginning in 1859 interspersed with newspaper articles covering the trial itself.

Martha Lea has quite a unique style. While some pieces of the puzzle are revealed throughout the plot, there seems to be quite of bit of information left to the reader's imagination. Some events are hinted at without being overtly explained while others are tackled in a manner more appropriate for the time period in which the story is set. To that end, there's a lot left unsaid between the characters but emphasized through their actions and reactions to one another.

Gwen's relationship with Edward is a train wreck! The kind of relationship you know is set for a bad end -- even if the story had not begun with Gwen being accused of his murder. In fact, the reader is unsure of her guilt or innocence throughout the whole of the book.

There were, admittedly, portions of the story that I found a bit confusing. The significance of the balas diamond (which I had to google). It's mentioned a few times and my best guest is that it's further testament to Gwen's overall innocent nature. Fergus's part in the whole scheme was also a little unclear to me at times. All in all, though, discovering the truth behind the events in the story is fascinating enough to overlook these aspects (and my assumption is simply that I misread or completely missed something somewhere along the line).

If you're in the mood for an odd historical mystery with aspects of spiritualism, Darwinism, murder, lots of backstabbing, and oddities, this is the one for you. The Specimen is quite an intriguing and enjoyable debut!

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