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Mys­ter­ies un­earthed

- — Re­viewed by Mag­gie Trapp Books · Auckland Region · Russia · New Zealand · Wellington, New Zealand · England · Charles Wright · Oceania News · Russian Empire

THE ALEXANDRIT­E by Dione Jones (Cloud Ink Press, $29.95) The Alexandrit­e, the de­but novel by Auck­land writer Dione Jones, is an en­thralling mys­tery that reaches back to Tsarist Rus­sia and World War

I to end up in con­tem­po­rary New Zealand. Along the way, read­ers are im­mersed in a rich story that chal­lenges us to think about race, class, fam­ily se­crets and fam­ily ties.

The book opens af­ter Welling­ton math­e­mati­cian Pro­fes­sor Geoffrey Cook has ar­rived at Ashly House in Eng­land. We learn that he has mys­te­ri­ously died on the es­tate’s grounds with a sug­ges­tive let­ter and a lu­mi­nous stone on his per­son. Pro­fes­sor Cook’s brother, who in­sists there has been foul play, tells a re­porter back in New Zealand that “his brother was vis­it­ing a pow­er­ful fam­ily about a se­cret they didn’t want re­vealed”.

Jones’ fast-paced, en­gross­ing novel shut­tles back and forth be­tween Eng­land dur­ing WWI, the 1940s and then 2013 and New Zealand in the 1930s, 80s and 2013.

The plot con­tains sev­eral threads that come to­gether to form a com­plex story about the var­i­ous ways that one fam­ily both know­ingly and un­know­ingly af­fected change in many lives.

The once-grand fam­ily is now, as we meet them in 2013, only the fallen-on-hard times Lady Scaw­ton and her in­suf­fer­able son Sir Charles. Their house­hold, which has seen bet­ter days, is cared for by their canny, for­bear­ing but­ler,god­ley. As the novel dips back in time, we come to know the older gen­er­a­tions of the Scaw­ton line as well as all man­ner of house­hold help from Ashly House’s more heady days.

As Lady Scaw­ton — Pamela — sets out to learn why the late Pro­fes­sor Cook was at Ashly House and what the cryptic let­ter and beau­ti­ful stone he was car­ry­ing might mean, she be­gins a jour­ney that leads her to un­ex­pected rev­e­la­tions about her English fam­ily’s con­nec­tions, both hid­den and ac­knowl­edged in New Zealand.

What Pamela even­tu­ally learns causes her to re­con­sider all that she thought she once un­der­stood. As Pamela muses to her­self, “It had taken the dead body of a stranger, who had been car­ry­ing a threat­en­ing let­ter and a mys­te­ri­ous stone, to prompt this whole trail of mem­o­ries and rev­e­la­tions.”

For Pamela, the mys­tery at the cen­tre of this novel up­ends all that had once seemed set in stone.

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