Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 Feb 2019 from Severn House
1967. In a quiet village in the wild lands of the Scottish borders, disgraced academic Cordelia Hemlock is trying to put her life back together. Grieving the loss of her son, she seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort amid the ancient headstones and crypts of the local churchyard.
When lightning strikes a tumbledown tomb, she glimpses a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. But when the storm passes and the body vanishes, the authorities refuse to believe the claims of a hysterical ‘outsider’.
Teaming up with a reluctant witness, local woman Felicity Goose, Cordelia’s enquiries all lead back to a former POW camp that was set up in the village during the Second World War. But not all Gilsland’s residents welcome the two young women’s interference. There are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried … whatever the cost.
This is the second historical novel by David Mark that I have read and I chose to read it because the first, The Zealot’s Bones, was one of my top reads a couple of years ago.
The Mausoleum is predominantly set in the 1960’s but the events that it recounts relate to an earlier period, during the Second World War.
Felicity Goose is on her way to visit her mother’s grave when she finds Cordelia Hemlock lying on a grave in the cemetery. Gilsland is a small village just south of the Scottish Border with a local history is traceable to Hadrian’s Wall . Felicity knows who Cordelia is, though the women have never spoken. Cordelia is the woman who came to live in the big house with her young son, Stefan and stayed to mourn his death, just months old. Her husband is a senior civil servant in London who provides well enough for her, though he is never seen in the village.
Cordelia has never looked to get to know her neighbours and since Stefan’s death has roamed the countryside with no purpose other than to be alone with her grief.
As Felicity begins to talk to Cordelia she warns Cordelia that a storm is coming, almost as the heavens open. As they prepare to leave the graveyard, lightning strikes a tree which falls and cleaves a nearby mausoleum, wide open. Both women are horrified to see the body of a man in a blue suit with a satchel lying in the depths of the mausoleum. They run to Felicity’s nearby farmhouse in the downpour and when the local oral historian, Fairfax comes by, they relate what they have seen. Fairfax rushes off to find out what he can and alert the authorities but is killed in a car accident, presumed on his way to the police.
The situation is mysterious, but as if that were not on its own sufficiently dramatic, the body disappears. The local police, investigating Fairfax’s death are not terribly interested in what the women claim to have seen in the graveyard, and indeed Felicity is much more tentative than Cordelia in relating what they might have seen.
Nonetheless, this is the start of a bond forged between Cordelia and Felicity (who, aptly named, would not say boo to another Goose).
Cordelia can’t stop thinking about the body though and the more Felicity learns about Fairfax, the more it seems that his death could be suspicious, too.
Mark’s story immerses us in rural life in the quiet far North of England where manual work is what keeps the land alive and where outsiders are looked upon with suspicion and friendships are hard won. Gilsland is a village full of secrets; from those of Cordelia to the other inhabitants. The village is near a former POW camp and there are many tales from that time that villagers will talk among themselves about, but would not dream of broadcasting further afield.
Still grieving, Cordelia finds that she is drawn to Felicity’s no nonsense approach; though her superstitions make her seem sometimes a little uneasy and prone to taking a back seat in their enquiries. Nevertheless, she gains strength from Cordelia’s convictions and soon the two women are developing a bond.
Secrets, lies and abominations dominate this book, which is just perfect in a place where everyone is practically taciturn or speaks with an opacity that would grace the Secret Service.
Mark cleverly builds on his burgeoning female friendships to lay down a trail to some of the darkest, most heinous secrets that history has to divulge – going back to the Second World War and specifically the French Resistance.
The shadows of the past are reaching out to the claustrophobically small village of Gilsland and the tragedies that those long, spooky tendrils of smoke point to will devastate more than one family in the village.
I loved his characters; from the villagers who know everything yet say nothing to the acutely drawn sons of Felicity and her husband, through to the neighbours and the civil servants whose nameless shadowy figures are never far from any villager’s door. Mark’s sense of place is superb and his descriptions rich and olfactory.
Verdict: Mark has written a beautifully conceived and well executed historical tale full of exceptionally well-drawn characters, with a tense and claustrophobic setting and a feel for sharp cruelty that pierces the fog and numbs the senses.
David spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the Detective Sergeant Hector McAvoy novels.
He has written five novels in the McAvoy series, Dark Winter, Original Skin, Sorrow Bound, Taking Pity and Dead Pretty. David has also written a McAvoy novella, A Bad Death, which is available as an ebook. Dark Winter was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel, a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Times bestseller.
He lives in Northumberland with his partner, two children and an assortment of animals.