Book review of The Alexandrite, reviewed by Josie Laird
A mystery within a family saga which stretches across a century, involving an aristocratic family in England and the escape of various family members and retainers to New Zealand.
Pamela, Lady Scawton, discovers a body on her estate. Police find a half-complete letter addressed to her son, the new Lord Charles, and an unusual stone. Yet the dead man is unknown to either of them. Police identify him as a New Zealander, in England for a conference.
This is local author Dione Jones’ first novel, and it is a riveting read as we seek to understand the links between the Scawton family and their previously unknown New Zealand connections. Skeletons tumble out of closets in their rundown home. The reader is allowed insight into different timeframes, which allow us to glimpse possibilities of what happened in prior generations.
The Alexandrite of the title is the type of stone found on the dead man. An unusual gem from Tsarist Russia, named for the last tsar, Alexander, it changes colour in different light. It passes through a number of hands during the story. Most of the owners consider it a good luck charm, unaware of its true value.
The main protagonist is Pamela, Lady Scawton. At times, she can be aggravatingly toffee-nosed and overly aware of her position in the aristocracy. However, as we learn more about her, we realise that she has had a lonely and isolated life. We cheer as she learns to stand up for herself, especially against her arrogant son.
As a New Zealander, I found the superior attitude of the Scawtons difficult to stomach. I wondered whether their behaviour was realistic for these modern times and felt glad that I didn’t live in that environment. It was reminiscent of Downton Abbey with its strict adherence to class divisions. On the other hand, the Kiwis are portrayed more sympathetically although rather inclined to have a chip on their shoulder.
There are quite a few characters to follow, especially with the different timeframes. The lineage of the Scawtons at the front was invaluable, especially when it came to sorting which Lady Scawton was in a particular era.
Overall, the mystery gets solved in a satisfying way and we leave Pamela in a much better space.
Josie Laird is the author of All About Kate, a novel about body image, and a member of the Franklin Writers Group. The group meets weekly on Tuesdays, 12:45 during term time. Contact Barbara 027 5606 777