A three week long trip means time to read, but packing enough books would make my luggage prohibitively heavy, and I also like to search out local books that I might not see at home The Belladonna Maze falls into that category. My daughter dragged me into a bookstore because she needed something to read, and of course, I browsed, too. This book is definitely something I wouldn’t see at home, so I picked it up.
First off, I loved the premise: a haunted house in rural western Ireland. A house that holds many secrets. I’d just been in the area, too, so that added to the attraction. Throw in a touch of romance, and I was hooked.
Structurally, the book (mostly) alternates third-person POV historical chapters with modern first-person POV ones. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this type of writing. It needs a deft hand to pull it off like Diane Setterfield does in The Thirteenth Tale. Crowley does a pretty good job, but I think that, for me, I wasn’t always certain of the need for the historical chapters. There’s nothing in them that couldn’t have been discovered by the main character or some of the secondary ones. A few could have been left out and the story would have been fine. Having said that, I do like the characters she created in those sometimes brief backstories. They’re entirely believable.
The writing is clean and accessible. (I only found one typo!), though there are some oddly long paragraphs. My biggest gripe with the actual writing is that it felt like every chapter had to have some sort of tragic cliffhanger twist, which possibly comes from her journalism background. I get that the point is to keep readers engaged, but there was no space for me to breathe. It felt relentless–pointlessly so. I put the book down because I couldn’t take any more. However, for the most part, she backs off of this as the story progresses.
Of course, all of the above sounds as if I hated the book. I didn’t. I DNF those books. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I wasn’t swept along as I am in other stories, and though the ending is entirely satisfactory, I became irked by the terrier, Prince. Neat idea, but how could this dog have eaten anything? (If I’m being vague, it’s because I’m trying not to spoil a minor plot point here.) And how did the narrator never ask about the creature? This broke the spell for me.
The Belladonna Maze is a good beach read, and it’s a shame Irish readers aren’t more accessible in the US.