I feel I did this novel a disservice when I started reading it. Having finished my previous book, I dived straight into Kate Mosse’s latest without really pausing for breath. This resulted in my first impressions of The Taxidermist’s Daughter unfairly being that it was rather slow to get going. As it turns out, I was completely mistaken…
The novel is set in 1912 in a small village in Sussex. The main character, Connie Gifford lives a somewhat isolated existence outside the village with just her father, an alcoholic taxidermist, and their maid for company. During childhood, Connie suffered a terrible accident, which robbed her of her early memories. As the novel progress, snippets of these elusive memories begin to return, including one surrounding a young woman called Cassie.
The story opens with a mysterious, midnight gathering of people at the village churchyard. Superstition has it that the ghosts of individuals who will not survive the coming year are seen to walk. Amongst those present in the churchyard is a striking stranger whose features are obscured by her veil. By the end of the prologue, a murder has occurred.
Connie is herself a talented taxidermist and Mosse enlist extracts from a taxidermy guide and detailed descriptions of Connie’s work on a jackdaw to bring the somewhat macabre subject into focus. As might be expected, bird imagery runs throughout the novel and neatly links Connie’s past and present.
Alongside Connie’s returning memories, a second narrative – told from the perspective of a mysterious character – begins to reveal more of the Gifford family’s past secrets. Coupled with the discovery of a woman’s body in the stream by their garden, it is not long before a sense of inevitable foreboding begins to envelop the central characters.
There are a raft of additional players within the narrative, many of whom are presented as unlikeable and, in some cases downright sinister, from the get-go. The male characters in particular appear flawed, however for some, there is a the opportunity for redemption. I particularly enjoyed the comic appeal of Davey, a young boy from the village who bravely steps up to support Connie in her hour of need.
With many of the elements required for a deliciously gothic tale, The Taxidermist’s Daughter is certainly worth a read. Mosse’s ability to craft a narrative that it both dark and subtly romantic is showcased here. It would have been easy to present Connie as a fragile figure yet Mosse tempers her vulnerability with a determination and resolution that reflects her desire to uncover her past.
Visit Kate Mosse’s website to find out more about her novels. She can also be found tweeting @katemosse.