Ian and Sarah, two elderly friends, find three skeletons in the garden of a house they have both, at some time, called home. They decide, each for their own reasons, not to inform the police.
““A fantastic mix of mystery and social history seen through the lives of four generations of an extended family.
HR-S, Surrey, England
What's it about?
Ian and Sarah, two elderly friends, find three skeletons in the garden of a house they have both, at some time, called home.
They decide, each for their own reasons, not to inform the police. Instead, they devise a scheme to find answers to the questions they believe no one but themselves would care about.
Whose bones were they?
How and when did they die?
Who buried them?
That scheme involves Ian’s new neighbours, historical investigators Skye and Fergal Shepherd, who soon have their own questions.
Why did Sarah go to such lengths to involve them?
Why is she not telling them all she knows?
Why did she not tell them what it was they were really being asked to uncover?
There are two elements to the Legacies of the title.
First there is the legacy of property and wealth as detailed in the wills of members of the Elwall family. Arthur’s will, written in the 1930s, tries to solve the problem of providing for his two, very different, sons in an unusual way, but simply leads to resentment which passes through three generations.
Second is the legacy left for Arthurs’s great-grandchildren when nearly a century later a discovery leads to a mystery to be solved.
Elwall Legacies has been described as about patriarchy and how women’s lives were influenced by the expectations of society and were controlled by the men in their lives as much as by the events of the 20th century.
It is also a story of how love, and its absence, shapes lives; how it can, in its various forms, be constructive or destructive.
First there was Winifred who, as a child of the Victorian era, did everything her husband, Arthur, asked of her, content that he always had her best interests at heart. She trusted him to do right by their sons, Ernest and Edward.
Then there is her daughter in law, Louisa, who ignored her marriage vows to live her life as she wanted, but at a cost paid by her daughter, Lizzie, who was never in a position to fix the direction of her own short life.
Then there is Grace, Lizzie’s husband’s second wife, who harboured grudges and was as selfish as they come but who would have been very different if she could have had a longer marriage with the man she adored.
And then there is Emily, Lizzie’s lover, who saw everything and manipulated more.
For me the story is about love or the absence of love and how this can shape your life irrevocably. How love can be constructive and destructive. It’s about patriarchy and how women’s lives were influenced by the expectations of society and controlled by men and that tough decisions have to be made. At the same time, men had a sense of duty to family and country that conflicted with what they might instinctively think was the right thing to do. For men and women, it was the challenge of life itself and making decisions which could have repercussions through the years and generations to come. Property and inheritance can be obsessions for the living and Elwall Legacies show that intentions to do the right thing can actually ruin the lives of those who were meant to benefit. World Wars, the class structure of society, gender, sexuality, all have a significant part to play in the story moulding and re-forming the lives of different generations.
Anonymous reviewer on Facebook
“A fantastic mix of mystery and social history seen through the lives of four generations of an extended family. Carolyn McCrae’s latest title allows her husband and wife investigators (seen previously in A Set of Lies, Second Strand and Hostage to Fortune) to solve a contemporary puzzle by looking into the past”.
HR-S, Surrey, England
I’m pleased to say that I haven’t wasted hours of my life … on the contrary, it was a pleasure to read and the pace and content kept me interested throughout.
The time slippages and overlaying of the same events but from different perspectives and with different voices is very effective. Characters and events are developed and it is clear that ideas of villains and victims ebb and flow and merge as more is discovered about the past and how events affected all the characters in different ways. It also means that the reader updates and revises their opinions of right or wrong actions, likeable or unlikeable people. AS, Kent, England
I really enjoyed reading Elwall Legacies. It starts off with a great mystery of the three bodies in the wood and from then on, as the focus moves from generation to generation, I was wondering who they were and who killed them. It kept me intrigued the whole way and the revelations in the final chapters and the denouement were surprising but absolutely satisfying. MM, Australia
Interview with the Author
Q. Carolyn was asked whether it was deliberate that no character is entirely likeable.
A. I hope that Skye and Fergal are both considered likeable! They have appeared in a number of my books and, for those who have read A Set of Lies, Second Strand and Hostage to Fortune will have seen their relationship develop.
Q. But of the historical characters? The Elwalls and those who lived or worked in Elwall House?
A. As the person who created these people I have to say I have never set out to write characters it is difficult for the reader to relate to but, just as in the real world, all my creations have good and bad sides. Take Arthur Elwall as an example. He gave up farming and started an engineering business without consulting his wife though that is entirely appropriate for a man at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. But always his aim was to create a viable future for his sons. Perhaps he was selfish but he was flexible and accepted his younger sons relationship with Louisa, his elder son’s wife, without acrimony.
Q. But Grace? Does she have any redeeming features?
A. Selfish and bigoted certainly. But life didn’t treat her well. The man she believed to be her father was an invalid and killed himself, I don’t go into a great deal of detail about how that affected her but it must have done. Her much younger sister was unkind to her, conniving to keep her apart from the man she loved who was killed not long after they had finally married. So, no, life didn’t treat her kindly. A dire second marriage probably sealed her feelings that she was unloved and unlovable. Perhaps that excuses her at least some of her actions.
Q. Who is your favourite?
A. I’m not allowed to have favourites! But if pushed I would say I like Ian. I hope my readers do to. Weak, he may have been, not to fight against the wishes of his father and settle for an easy life until his father died. Though Lizzie didn’t have much of a chance to do much wrong, apart from work with Emily against Grace. If Lizzie had lived I’m not sure how she would have turned out.
Q. And your least favourite?
A. That has to be Emily.
Q. Any particular reason?
A. She has her good points. She was loyal to her love for Lizzie but that love turned into a destructive force. She could have done so much good for Sarah but she chose not to. She could have done so many things differently had she not been blinded by her dislike of her sister.
Intriguing! I look forward to reading it.