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Originally published Friday, April 20, 2012 at 5:33 AM

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Book review

Book review: "Coral Glynn" peeks behind the facade of an English manor

Peter Cameron's novel "Coral Glynn" is an intricate, suspenseful tale about a lonely young woman in 1950s England whose job at an aristocrat's manor thrusts her into an ever-widening mystery. Cameron reads Tuesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Peter Cameron

The author of "Coral Glynn" will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday with novelist Christopher Tilghman ("The Right-Hand Shore") at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
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In Peter Cameron's latest novel, "Coral Glynn" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 210 pp., $24), a cold, dreary spring lingers over 1950s England. Our Pacific Northwest weather, so similar in nature, provides ample opportunity to curl up with this book, a sad, intricate tale taut with suspense.

Coral Glynn, an attractive young nurse with no family or friends, arrives at a countryside aristocratic manor to care for an ailing Mrs. Hart. Major Clement Hart, her son, hides his loneliness behind his handsome facade, as well as hideous burns suffered in World War II.

"It's funny," he says. "(W)ar brings some men much closer to God. Others it separates. I lost my faith — what I had of it — in the war."

Clement takes a fancy to Coral and makes a few overt attempts at friendship. Coral, however starved for companionship she might be, remains wary of Clement. She's equally uneasy about Mrs. Prence, the stern housekeeper, who mistreats her.

To escape this suffocating environment, Coral takes frequent walks in a secluded wooded area nearby. It is during one such walk that she notices a little girl being tortured by a boy of the same age.

Coral rushes to help the girl, but both the children insist they're only playing a game. Coral walks away unnerved, but says nothing about the incident to anyone.

A few weeks after Coral's arrival, Mrs. Hart dies. The period of mourning is hardly over when Clement proposes marriage to Coral and she, rather impulsively, accepts.

Shortly thereafter, the little girl is found dead in the woods under suspicious circumstances, and Coral becomes an immediate suspect. On their wedding night, Clement, who believes in Coral's innocence, sends her away to London to prevent her arrest by the police.

Will these wounded souls ever reunite? Plot twists throughout the remainder of this slim book provide an unexpected answer.

This is not strictly a crime novel but, rather, it remains firmly rooted in the literary genre. Even so, the reader will stay riveted through the first half of the book, with "What'll happen next?" constantly hanging in the air.

Unfortunately, the suspense tapers off somewhat in the latter part of the story.

Cameron, author of six novels, including "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," pays considerable attention to developing his characters and mostly succeeds, with the exception of Coral. She sets the story in motion, but her thoughts and feelings are not always clear to the reader.

As a result, she seems enigmatic, perhaps even dimwitted. On the other hand, Clement, despite his flaws, emerges as a well-defined, sympathetic character.

As always, Cameron's prose is something to savor. In his hand, even an ordinary moment can seem extraordinary. "They stood there, side by side, watching the rain pelt the pavement of Grantley Terrace, watching the drops smack the street and splash upwards, the mesmerizing confusion of it, the movement down followed so quickly, so impossibly quickly, by the movement up."

Bharti Kirchner's next novel is "Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery,"

coming in May.

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