Fam­ily secrets buried amid the bones

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

When the ex­tended Alden-Stowe clan de­cides to sell its de­crepit, heav­ily mort­gaged heir­loom es­tate to a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany, it’s sup­posed to be a straight­for­ward trans­ac­tion: pots of money in ex­change for land ear­marked for large-scale agri­cul­tural works.

But the devel­op­ers ig­nore cer­tain sale con­di­tions, such as not raz­ing the ma­jes­tic oak trees sur­round­ing the prop­erty, not van­dal­is­ing the ad­join­ing ceme­tery, not de­stroy­ing the his­toric house. Their dere­lic­tion opens wide a hith­erto hid­den tale of in­tra-fa­mil­ial squab­bling and ma­li­cious in­tent.

In Caro­line Over­ing­ton’s lat­est novel, The Lucky One, sev­eral fam­ily secrets have been kept firmly in­tact for many years. It’s only when a bob­cat des­e­crates a grave­yard and re­veals a fresh corpse, slightly singed, that the rot fi­nally is re­vealed. It will take a while, though, be­fore the truth starts wrig­gling out like up­turned earth­worms.

Set in the pic­turesque hills of Paso Robles, in Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try, the book spans three gen­er­a­tions and fea­tures a gothic set­ting in a 100-year-old fam­ily pile (a ram­shackle cas­tle no less). There will be a sec­ond body, this one quite a bit older, and re­cov­ered in an un­likely lo­ca­tion some­where in the dusty re­cesses of this ivy-cov­ered stone man­sion, with its draw­bridge and dry, over­grown moat.

And later, deaths sum­mar­ily dis­missed as ac­ci­den­tal will need re­clas­si­fi­ca­tion. You may think you know whodunit and even why­dunit, but The Lucky One will blind­side you in the fi­nal sec­tions, when un­ex­pected blood ties, al­liances and col­lu­sions come to light.

As some­one mur­murs within the pages, “You can bury bones but not secrets.”

The main char­ac­ter is Eden, the 17-year-old grand­daugh­ter of oc­to­ge­nar­ian Owen James Alden-Stowe III, top of the fam­ily tree. He is not in ro­bust men­tal or phys­i­cal health but, un­for­tu­nately for some, still very much alive and very much at­tached to his cas­tle. That’s not changed by the fact he and mem­bers of the ex­tended clan are stay­ing at a more mod­ern ad­join­ing prop­erty called the Glass Pavil­ion, a show­piece as un­clut­tered and pol­ished as the old home­stead is dusty and crumbly.

All of Owen’s di­rect de­scen­dants are ben- efi­cia­ries of a deed that stip­u­lates the sale of Alden Cas­tle is pos­si­ble only through unan­i­mous agree­ment. Cue ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers grap­pling for con­trol and a con­certed ef­fort by Eden’s mercurial and im­pe­cu­nious sin­gle mother, Je­salyn, to se­cure con­sent from all par­ties to sell.

It’s a tale of gen­er­a­tional dis­trust and rivalry, but ul­ti­mately of greed: of vul­tures de­scend­ing for their share of the spoils and the fall­out when a de­serv­ing claimant is left out of the trust.

This is Over­ing­ton’s eighth novel and, like sev­eral of its pre­de­ces­sors, it’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller. (She also has three non­fic­tion books and is a jour­nal­ist with The Aus­tralian.)

Though placed in con­tem­po­rary time (so­cial me­dia is men­tioned), there’s some­thing de­cid­edly old-fash­ioned about this book. Per­haps it’s the loom­ing pres­ence of the cas­tle, rem­i­nis­cent of the cosy, closed-set mys­ter­ies of Agatha Christie. There are also sev­eral stock fig­ures, so at times it feels as though Over­ing­ton is play­ing Cluedo.

There’s the pa­tri­arch in the throes of de­men­tia (Colonel Mus­tard?); the avari­cious Bo­toxed

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