I’m completely in love with the concept of The Vanished Bride which features the Brontë sisters as amateur sleuths. It’s a fantastic idea, and Bella Ellis executes it perfectly.
A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified, yet intrigued.
Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery – and that if they don’t attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will.
The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman’s place to be in the home, not wandering 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…
The Brontë sisters need little introduction. Appearing in what I believe (and sincerely hope!) is the first in a series, I absolutely loved seeing Charlotte, Emily, and Anne in a completely different light. Gathered together at Haworth parsonage, they are shocked to hear of the events at Chester Grange, situated a few miles away, from which Elizabeth Chester has gone missing. Knowing one of staff at Chester Grange, they begin to ask a few questions and to seek answers to her disappearance, driven by their insatiable curiosity, sense of justice, and at least partly inspired by a news article regarding
specially trained and educated policemen engaged entirely in the exclusive profession of “detecting” to solve crimes, using their wit and intellect to search out the guilty.
As characters, these three ladies work brilliantly. I loved the sibling rivalry between them, with two often siding against the third, allegiances shifting constantly. When one is in need, however, the other two are immediately there to support and comfort, and their companionship was always apparent. Ellis writes the three sisters as being highly intelligent and intensely curious – traits which serve them well in their new role as amateur sleuths. It’s clear that there are going to be some difficulties for them in the course of their investigation – particularly with the attitudes of men at the time – and yet they don’t feel that there is an option to leave this to the authorities. If they don’t investigate Elizabeth’s disappearance, it seems that no one else will, and I loved the tenacity shown by all three. Each of the them brings something a little different to the team, and while they all have their moments, Emily was my favourite. She is fearless, and cares little for the what is considered to be suitable behaviour for a young woman, and she was immensely fun to read.
I do not have time to waste on the weaknesses of men.
The official investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance seems to have stopped after a half-hearted attempt to track down some gypsies spotted in the area at the time. While they cannot become officially involved, the Brontë sisters begin their own quiet investigation, believing that if they don’t, no one else will. While they do not have much experience in the area, they are extremely well-read and intelligent ladies, and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of Elizabeth’s disappearance. It’s a particularly interesting crime, with a significant amount of blood found in Elizabeth’s chamber, but no sign of a body. As they investigate, they begin to find new clues and red herrings, and I loved their moments of speculation as they try to work out what is and isn’t important as the truth of the matter is gradually revealed.
Set in the mid-nineteenth century, Ellis highlights the inequalities of a society which sees women as little more than property. The sisters are fully aware of the unfairness of it all, and must occasionally rely upon their rather amusing and somewhat inept brother, Branwell, as men refuse to speak to them, demanding to know where their husbands are. Despite this, they continue to seek justice for a woman which might not otherwise be achieved. Ellis has written the Brontë sisters, and some of the other ladies in this novel, to be quite sassy at times, and there were so many quotes I made a note of about how little they care for the opinions of men.
It’s as if the male of the species cannot bear that I have agency over my own life, and insist on meddling where no meddling is required or invited.
The Vanished Bride is set shortly before any of the sisters’ novels were written, and you can see hints of their forthcoming work here – there are some wonderful little Easter eggs for Brontë lovers. Even the author’s chosen nom de plume should ring a bell 😉 The Vanished Bride is a fantastic novel, and one that I fell completely in love with. Before reading it, I did have a slight concern that the presence of the Brontës might make it a little twee, but any concerns I had were swiftly dismissed. Ellis has delivered a fantastic novel that is beautifully written and with engaging characters who make perfect detectives.
The Vanished Bride will be published on 7th November by Hodder & Stoughton. Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read and review this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.