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A Review of: The Flourish: Murder in the Family
by Desmond McNally

Are you sitting comfortably? - Then I'll begin. . .
("Listen with Mother", BBC Radio, circa 1950's)

The above would serve as good advice to those preparing to read the Flourish by Heather Spears. The author advises us in her introduction that the events in her narrative are true and that all of the characters lived, and are in addition, ancestors of Ms. Spears. This renders the story to come more tantalizing for the reader.
The stage for this novel is Victorian Scotland, in particular, the village of Kirkfieldbank near Lanark, where our central character, Charlotte (Chattie) Spears is introduced. The author's, Ms. Heather Spears's, exhaustive research includes use of the idioms of that time and place which serve to enhance the authentic feel of her tale. Readers unfamiliar with many of the expressions, colloquialisms and dialect used, are urged to be patient as they begin the book, for their perseverance will be rewarded.
Heather Spears is a poet of considerable renown and a recipient of Canada's Governor General's Award for Poetry. Her lyrical style is obvious from the start.
The first "truth" we're given is that Charlotte Spears was born and raised in Glasgow and was an accomplished music teacher and composer, an independent young woman of impeccable breeding. After the tragic death of her father and brother, relatives offer Charlotte lodging in their home "Annville House" in Kirkfieldbank. It is here that her career and ambitions flourish until two things happen. Her severely ill cousin, Willie Brown, a medical student, comes to convalesce, and the Reverend Andrew Thomson shows an ardent romantic interest in Chattie. (It would have been considered socially unacceptable at that time).
These developments cause great problems for this gentle and duty-bound young woman, especially as her caring for Willie becomes increasingly onerous. Willie, one moment coherent and seemingly rational, and the next demanding, ungrateful and hurtful, makes Chattie's life unbearable. The Rev. Thomson's letters and attentions are the only pleasing elements of her existence.
Eventually help arrives. Katie Hamilton, a young, poorly educated girl, is brought in to assist Chattie with household chores, but not with looking after Willie.
The tragic conclusion to this story is at once shocking, horrifying and sad-especially since it comes across as entirely real.
Heather Spears expertly captures the atmosphere of rural Victorian Scotland. It's as if we are picked up and deposited in Kirkfieldbank. We're party to the locals' simple pleasures and daily concerns. We witness their strict adherence to their rigidly formal religious activities. Their regular attendance at temperance and Freemasonry meetings are effectively described.
The narrative is not without some gentle humour; in particular, the reader will enjoy the paragraph concerning the demise of Builder Simpson, a welcome counterpoint to the mostly serious attitudes of the villagers. Readers will be grateful for the author's artful character development, by which I mean all of the novel's characters, not just the main ones. Finally, the comfortable cadence of Spears's narrative, which she maintains throughout the novel, is quite an achievement in itself.
This is an engrossing and most stylish offering. I look forward to her next effort.

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