On September 17, 1882, Mrs. Vanessa Wynters not only finds herself at a funeral but unemployed as well. After the death of her husband, she was left with very little capital, and took a job as a paid companion. She has spent the last several years traveling with Lady Gwendolyn Marrable. Vanessa and Lady Gwen are very close and even shared a passion for photography. But Vanessa’s life is dramatically altered when Lady Gwen has a stroke in Paris that ultimately kills her.
Vanessa returns with Lady Gwen’s body to Royal Sherringham in Herefordshire, England. Sherringham is a huge estate largely reflecting the gothic revival movement and is the ancient seat of the Viscounts Marrable. Upon returning for Lady Gwen’s funeral, Vanessa finds herself immersed in family politics, nuances, and ghosts.
Lord Adrian Marrable is the current Viscount, and at the age of 28, has already endured several tragedies. He is twice widowed, and both of his wives died under mysterious circumstances. It has long been rumored that Adrian may have been involved with both of their deaths.
Vanessa accepts an invitation from Adrian to stay on at Sherringham and pursue a career in photography. It has always been her dream, but until now she hasn’t had the means. It is while photographing the estate that Vanessa encounters a ghostly image in her pictures. Does a ghost really exist at Sherringham? And if so, what is it trying to tell her? Does it have anything to do with the death of Adrian’s second wife, Olivia?
Two things made Shades of the Past appealing: the gothic atmosphere and the mysterious ghost that haunts Vanessa through her photographs. It all built into a very interesting read with lots of mystery. Also, Kirkwood provides extensive detail about early photography. The detail and atmosphere set the stage for a grand gothic story, but the effort is undermined by a weak romance.
Vanessa and Adrian are immediately drawn to each other, but they spend little time together before the consummation of the relationship. There’s hardly any communication between the two, and outside of being physically attracted to each other I didn’t understand how the two suddenly “realized” their love. How can they be in love, when they barely talk or spend any time together? Essentially, they are little more than strangers to each other.
Outside of the weak romance, Shades of the Past does have some wonderful elements. There’s a twist to what could have been a predictable ending, reinforcing my opinion that Kathleen Kirkwood has endless possibilities in the romance genre. While this effort did have a weak link, the mystery, gothic setting, and Victorian time period all led to a satisfying read.