The Secret of the Château by Kathleen McGurl: Enthralling read with history, mystery, romance and a soupçon of the supernatural - book review -

When a group of recently retired university friends pool together to buy a stunning château in the picturesque French Alps, a restless ghost unlocks dark and disturbing secrets buried deep within its mellowed stone walls.

Monday, 24th August 2020, 3:45 pm
The Secret of the Château
The Secret of the Château

When a group of recently retired university friends pool together to buy a stunning château in the picturesque French Alps, a restless ghost unlocks dark and disturbing secrets buried deep within its mellowed stone walls.

If history, mystery, romance and a soupçon of the supernatural float your boat, set sail with Kathleen McGurl’s enthralling summer read… a beautiful and heartbreaking time-slip story of excess and despair, revolution and revenge set against the stunning backdrop of France’s Alpine foothills.

Starring an aristocratic family fleeing the opulent Palace of Versailles in 1789 to find refuge at their faraway château, and five present day friends seeking new beginnings and solace in the rural charms of their newly acquired French home, this is a gripping story of love and redemption across two centuries.

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When Catherine Aubert became the new Comtesse de Verais in 1785, her husband Comte Pierre was decades older and already well established as a trusted adviser at the court of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

For the young and naïve Catherine, it was a journey of excitement and discovery as her life at the magnificent Palace of Versailles instantly became one of lavish jewels, expensive clothes and dining on the finest food in the land.

Totally ignorant of the daily grind and poverty of those who lived beyond the excesses of the palace, Catherine took her privileges for granted and was content to live a cossetted and sheltered existence alongside the childlike Marie Antoinette.

But within years, revolution is in the air and Pierre, Catherine and their two young children have to flee the Reign of Terror that is descending on Paris and head for the Aubert family château miles away in the Alps.

However, the revolution is spreading through the country, and even hidden away, the Auberts are not safe because aristocrats are being ruthlessly hunted down. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.

Centuries later, retired history teacher Lu Marlow’s two sons have fled the nest and she has still not recovered from the death of her beloved mother so during a drunken evening with her husband Phil, and their long-time friends Maud and Steve, and singleton Gray, she agrees to them all selling up and moving to France for ‘a better lifestyle.’

And when they fall for the dreamy, eight-bedroom Château D’Aubert with its view over the mountains and sea, it really does feel like a fresh start for them all. But the locals have warned them about the château’s ghost that ‘does not like to be alone’ and Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history.

When she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets, and a shocking mystery that has been waiting for centuries to be uncovered…

McGurl weaves a bewitching and immaculately researched story in both timeframes as the determined Lu digs into the past to discover the mystery that has haunted the majestic château for over 200 years.

Slipping seamlessly between past and present, the triumphs and tragedies of Pierre and Catherine are juxtaposed with the trials and tribulations of the château’s new owners as they battle through their own personal and family upheavals.

Both Lu and Catherine are facing immense changes in their lives and McGurl’s action-packed story explores how women through time have dealt with the challenges posed by family relationships, events close to home and those in the wider world.

Coloured throughout by the lush beauty of the Alpes-Maritimes region, and brimming with drama, the decadence of the French court, the cruelties and horrors of the French revolution, gut-wrenching emotion, and ghostly reverberations, The Secret of the Château is the perfect escape.

(HQ, paperback, £8.99)