♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved. A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.
Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening. She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day. A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news. This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.
How well did she know her father? What was the cause of her mother’s death? Is Nicky really who she says?
The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view. Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways. The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.
Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens. Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.” I agree, but she is a great character. I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.
Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action. Poor Dunstan goes off the rails. A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night. I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries. One more shocking than the other.
Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.
For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged. Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time. I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.
The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames. It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.” A perfect remedy.
Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novels, non-fiction books and a blog. Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.
After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years. Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”—GBW.
FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
The Project Gutenberg eBook of “Our Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume. Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them. Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.
The cat stared through the screen door as though Darth Vader was chasing him. “You are my only hope, G-Obi-Wan Kenobi.” I doubted that, but knew in these pandemic-plagued times there are thousands of pets being abandoned just when a person-pet bond is needed the most.
The day before materialising at our back door, this grey cat had meowed in a distressed and pitiful fashion outside our house.
Like a feline Romeo, he looked up at our balcony hoping for a comforting word and perhaps a tasty treat…
I had seen him doing similar acts of desperation at other houses. One evening when I left to buy groceries, he ran across the road in front of my car. “That darn cat,” I muttered.
And then later, well, I leaned over and a small piece of sausage happened to hit the concrete below the balcony—it was pounced upon and disappeared immediately.
The cat licked his lips and the glint in his eye said “Foolish move, human”.
Next morning he was waiting outside the door as I filled the kettle with water and popped bread into the toaster.
Tentatively he began to meow. Gradually he started a high-pitched, upset-cat mewling. As he wailed, he placed a paw on the screen door. He started twanging on the metal mesh.
One claw at a time. Ping, ping, ping…
The noise reverberated around the metal door frame. I told him to cut it out or he might impale himself “Hanging by one paw won’t get you sympathy”. Ping. Ping. Ping. He timed it just right. Every. Time.
I gave him some cooked chicken and he practically breathed it in.
Our late lamented dog would have been disgruntled to see a cat lapping at her water bowl. But I think she would have appreciated the irony; the ceramic pattern of dogs and bones.
It became apparent that he was desperate to come inside. Just what I did not need. An inside cat. With my allergies.
He was quickly named Jo-Jo. As we try to navigate the back door, you may recall The Beatles song and understand why this name stuck.
As befitted a homeless feline, Jo-Jo was lean with dull, dusty fur. I visited the local pet supplies warehouse and came out with a heavy carry bag and a lighter bank balance.
Nothing fancy, I said, he’s not my cat…
One week later and Jo-Jo is still yowling at the back door and pinging the mesh screen.
But our stray is sleeker, his meow is less anxious, and his is more accepting of the morning-evening no snacking between meals timeline. He doesn’t have the luxury of grazing because other creatures, like ants and possums, are partial to cat food.
Jo-Jo is partial to a chin-scratch.
As I type this today, Jo-Jo is languishing on our doormat in the warm autumn sun, fur gently ruffled by the breeze, safe in the knowledge that there is a cat cubby to snuggle into when the evenings grow cooler. Dozing, sleepy now…
Food source assured; a smile curves as he sleeps…
Yesterday was different. I saw a mysterious lump in the grass of our backyard. A blob of something which blowflies were finding mighty interesting.
It was a bird, a dead bird. Minus its wings. A murder scenario was easy to reconstruct, but hard to fathom. It looked more like a destructive act than a burning desire for a fresh meal. The next bird was brought to the backdoor as an offering.
A decision will have to be made on the future of Jo-Jo. Find his owner? Find a foster home? Send him to the animal shelter? Take him to the vet for a microchip scan? Cat-proof the house…? Time will tell.
A discovery has already been made—our stray waif is a ‘she’ not a ‘he’.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
RSPCA Australia COVID-19 Response
Like all of us, the RSPCA is closely monitoring the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation. We’re very aware of the possible risk to our people and impact on animals. It’s possible that minimising this risk may require some changes to our operations. For helpful advice to avoid inconvenience, please check our website and social media (Facebook, Twitter) regularly.
Information on COVID-19 and Companion Animals
There is no evidence that companion animals play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick if they are exposed to the virus. However, you should stay informed about how to minimise the effects of self-isolation or hospitalisation on your pets. View all articles related to COVID-19 on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.