First-novelist Hamilton, the daughter of a Scottish peer, offers a tale of sex, murder, and the rigid British class system: a brew that’s by turns intriguing, salacious, and predictable.
When 15-year-old Lucy Diamond befriends wealthy and troubled Sarah Gatehouse at school, she begins a relationship that will change her life. Sarah, youngest daughter of Earl Ivar Gatehouse, lives in a cocoon of privilege, along with the debauchery and secrecy that apparently go along with it. Lucy, unofficial guardian to the willful Sarah, is invited to the Gatehouse manor in Scotland, where she is treated to a glimpse of their world of luxury and misery (Sarah’s mother, the countess, is in and out of rehab, her father has a penchant for young girls), a world Lucy enters when her mother becomes terminally ill and Lord Gatehouse arranges first-rate care and lodgings for her in London (something the humble Diamonds could never afford) as a means of seducing Lucy. The two begin a short-lived affair, interrupted by the disappearance of Gatehouse’s equally wealthy neighbor Katie Gresham. Frightened by the powerful nobleman, who Lucy learns has also been having an affair with Katie and sexually abusing his daughter Sarah, Lucy returns to school after Katie vanishes without telling the police what she saw the night of the disappearance. Nearly 20 years later the serial killer thought to be responsible for killing Katie recants his confession on his deathbed, and the case is reopened, this time bringing the untouchable Lord Gatehouse to trial. The intrigue exposes so much superficiality and selfishness among the idle rich that hardly a character is left worthy of sympathy. And though the result is at times as riveting as watching a snake devour its prey, the whole mystery is disclosed within the first hundred pages, leaving only a quasi-character study in the midst of a murder trial to carry the rest.
An uneven if often infectious read.