Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

Online book reviews since 2011, the very best in reviewing – connecting good readers with equally good writers

The Crimson Rooms

Sign up to receive our latest reviews by email

Katharine McMahon fashions a post-World War I London in her novel, The Crimson Rooms.  She prefaces her story with a Wilfred Owen poem, written in 1918.  Titled “The Kind Ghosts,” it metaphorically depicts one aftermath of war, the ghosts that haunt the living, especially at night.  One line is telling: “Quiet their blood lies in her crimson rooms.”  McMahon’s main character, Evelyn Gifford, lost her beloved brother James in the war. Now she is living the life planned for him.  Trained to be a lawyer at a time when very few women practiced in England, and serving as the breadwinner for her mother and maiden aunt, Evelyn struggles to make her way in a male milieu.

When The Crimson Rooms begins, the Giffords’ family’s lives are abnormally circumscribed.  Despite Evelyn’s obvious ambition and intelligence, she and the other women in her household seem unable to get past James’s death.  Their home enshrines his memory, his bedroom kept intact, his cap and blazer still hanging by the door, his memory invoked at every meal.  When Meredith Duffy, a Canadian nurse, and her young son Edmund step into this mausoleum, they create chaos in the Giffords’ settled existence.  “Yes, he really is so like his father, it’s uncanny,” Meredith announces to Evelyn, who is totally bewildered by the unprecedented appearance.  “I’m hoping you might have some photographs of James when he was a child so we can compare father and son at the same age.”

Thus a very alive and present mother and child enter Evelyn’s crimson rooms.  At the same time the aftermath of war is intruding on her personal life, her clerkship with Breen & Balcombe’s is leading her into court cases involving the war. One trial, in particular, keeps Breen and his clerk searching for clues from the past.  It involves an ex-soldier who is accused of killing his wife.  Stephen Wheeler, taciturn and obviously damaged by what he has seen on the front lines, refuses to enter a plea.  Rather, he sits silently while the prosecution reconstructs his crime.  Evelyn believes Wheeler is innocent, however, and she sets out to find evidence that will acquit their client.  In so doing, she enters another figurative set of crimson rooms haunted by the past.

The Crimson Rooms is one of those novels that keep the reader up past midnight.  Not only are the plots absolutely fascinating, and obviously intertwined somehow, but Evelyn’s character is a complicated blend of insecurity and professionalism.  Watching her develop and grow is every bit as intriguing as solving the mysteries of the novel.  I liked The Crimson Rooms so immensely that, even before I finished reading it, I asked Sunny to find more fiction written by Katharine McMahon.  I look forward to reading her first two novels, The Rose of Sebastopol and The Alchemist’s Daughter, and look forward to some day reviewing them in “Bookin’ with Sunny.”    – Ann Ronald

Also available by Katherine McMahon: Confinement; Footsteps; After Mary; Way Through the Woods.

Add your thoughts and comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this Review

Related Reviews

Parnassus on Wheels

Parnassus on Wheels

Christopher Morley’s classic Parnassus on Wheels is as good a read today as when first published in 1917.  And in some ways, given today’s book world,

Read More »
The Honey Jar

The Honey Jar

The Honey Jar, An Armenian’s Escape to Freedom, is Joan Schoettler’s captivating tale of a young boy’s 1920, escape from his war-torn home in Armenia.

Read More »

About the Reviewer

Sign up for reviews by email

You’ll get email updates from Bookin’ with Sunny when we add a new review or blog post, and we never share your email with anyone else.

Shopping in-store Fun!

Support your local community’s economic growth by shopping for books at your independent bookstore in person, online at their website, or by phone.