Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.
These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”
As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…
Before the Brontë sisters took the literary world by storm, they were trying their hand at resolving some real-world mysteries as ‘detectors’. Or so goes the engaging premise of Bella Ellis’ The Vanished Bride, the first in a promised series of Brontë mysteries featuring Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Branwell.
Set in 1845, prior to the publication of any of their novels and shortly after all three sisters find themselves, yet again, living under the same roof, the novel sees them becoming embroiled in the apparent murder of a young mother at a nearby country estate.
But on arrival at Chester Grange, they find a room that has been spotlessly cleaned and no sign of a body. What’s more both the housekeeper and the master of the house seem to have something to hide. As they investigate further, the three Brontë sisters soon find themselves embroiled in a case that might be far more sinister than it first appears.
The mystery is cleverly woven together, with the three sisters working around the limitations placed on and accessing their information using the skills and contacts they have. There is a clever use of the ‘Bell Brothers’ as cover for their investigations, whilst all three sisters use their unique perspective and skills to help uncover vital clues and information.
The narrative alternates between Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. The three women all have unique voices and their distinct characters really come across on the page – Charlotte’s stubborn determination, Emily’s spiky ferocity, and Anne’s reasoned passion. I really felt like I knew the sisters better having finished the novel, and one of the pleasures of reading The Vanished Bride was getting to spend time in the company of such interesting and unusual women.
Brontë fans are sure to spot many allusions to events in the lives of the family, as well as clever nods to the themes and events that these remarkable sisters will later explore in their novels.
You can sense the frustration of all three sisters at the limitations and constraints that are placed upon them by society’s definitions of womanhood. Branwell’s presence in the novel emphasises this also. Bought low by a combination of unfortunate circumstance and his own exuberant personality, yet still expected to become the literary genius that will rescue the family from the risk of penury, Branwell is a tragic example of the weight of expectations. Meanwhile, Charlotte, Emily and Anne are expected to either marry or find respectable employment, with little thought given to their own immense literary talents.
This makes for some poignant moments alongside the detecting, as you realise that Branwell’s downward spiral has only just begun, and that the three sisters, whilst forging literary careers for themselves, have just a few short years left together before their lives are torn apart by the cruel and devastating illnesses that will leave Charlotte and her father alone at the parsonage.
Yet despite this poignancy, The Vanished Bride remains a fun and engaging read. The love that the three Brontë sisters have for their family, their beloved Haworth, their writing, and for each other, really comes across on the page and, despite touching on themes of domestic violence and assault, the mystery element is pacy and well-handled. I raced through the book in a matter of days and had a serious book hangover when I finished it.
Mystery fans will find much to delight them in The Vanished Bride – a well paced and plotted historical mystery, red-herrings aplenty, and some excellent characters. Brontë fans are also sure to appreciate the research that has gone into creating a realistic portrayal of these remarkable literary sisters. Personally I thought The Vanished Bride was a corking good read – perfect for whiling away those long winter evenings with!
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for a honest and unbiased review.