Book review: The Angel Tree by Lucinda Riley

Since an accident 20 years ago, Greta’s amnesia has turned her life into a closed book but as long-lost memories start to reappear, the past returns with a vengeance.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 26th November 2015, 9:00 am
The Angel Tree byLucinda Riley
The Angel Tree byLucinda Riley

Forced to re-live hidden chapters that will reveal disturbing truths about her family and the traumas they have endured, Greta is facing a new reality more painful than she could ever have expected.

Supreme storyteller Lucinda Riley is on a roll with the much-anticipated publication this month of The Storm Sister, second book in her riveting Seven Sisters series, followed closely by The Angel Tree, a haunting, page-turning novel about a family riven by love, loss and betrayal.

First published as Not Quite An Angel under the name Lucinda Edmonds, and now extensively rewritten, this torrid tale moves between past and present and from post-war London and Los Angeles in the Swinging Sixties to the beautiful Welsh countryside.

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Packed with human drama, intrigue and high emotion, The Angel Tree also possesses a thrilling depth and darkness which reminds us why Riley has become one of today’s most popular authors of spellbinding fiction.

It’s 1985 and 30 years since 58-year-old Greta left Marchmont Hall, a grand and beautiful house nestled in the hills of rural Monmouthshire. She has returned for Christmas at the invitation of her old friend, comedian and TV celebrity David Marchmont.

Greta has no recollection of her past association with Marchmont Hall after a tragic accident blanked out decades of her life. She feels like she lives in a void, a mere ‘onlooker to the rest of humanity,’ simply memorising details of the personal history she has forgotten.

But during a walk through the snow-covered grounds of the hall, she stumbles across a grave in the woods and the weathered inscription on the headstone tells her that a little boy, her own son, is buried there.

The poignant discovery strikes a chord in Greta’s closed-off mind and sets in flow her lost memories. With David’s help, she recalls her life in post-war London, a time of excitement and new beginnings, particularly for a young woman who is young, pretty and has ambitions to be actress.

Greta also pieces together the story of her daughter Cheska, the pretty little girl who was certainly not the angel she appeared to be and who became the tragic victim of circumstances beyond her control.

Like mother, like daughter, Greta and Cheska seemed to be moths drawn helplessly to the flame of a candle that threatened to destroy them both. Is it too late for Greta to salvage any happiness from what would appear to be her lonely, loveless destiny?

The Angel Tree packs a real psychological punch, exploring the fall-out from troubled childhoods and how events in the past impact on not just our perception of the world but on how we handle our relationships with other people.

Riley takes us into the heart of a cross-generational struggle, filling the pages with fascinating characters and dynamic locations, and springing surprises at every juncture.

Sweeping, absorbing, beautifully written and utterly compelling, this is a saga to sit back and savour on long winter nights.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)