The Alexandrite by Dionne Jones
The eponymous jewel of the title sounds exotic and Russian, a clear crystalline that shimmers pink and green in different lights; but this is actually a story of a very English family.
It begins like a whodunnit. The lady of the manor takes the dogs out for a walk on a wet afternoon and finds a dead body at the end of the garden.
But instead of being a murder mystery in the classic tradition, this is a story about a family secret in the past, of which the present day generation knows nothing. The story weaves between that of past and current Scawton family generations and eventually becomes anchored in the present. Pamela, the recently widowed Lady Scawton is mired in the difficulties of managing an English country estate which has become incredibly expensive to maintain, and has little income; at the same time dealing with a brash and self-centred son Charles, now the Baronet , who dismisses her concerns about money and a new roof for the manor house . He sees himself as entitled to have the estate fund his polo-playing and playboy lifestyle and frets at the restrictions of the family trust and his mother's lack of indulgence.
The jewel, a beautiful and very rare uncut stone, found on the dead man, is apparently being returned to the Scawton family and Lady Scawton sets out on a mission to find out the story behind it. The man in the garden has come from New Zealand and Pamela goes there to track down the connection with the stone. The story slowly unfolds with few real surprises as the earlier chapters set in the 1920's point to a logical explanation . The story moves gently and deliberately, giving the reader time to engage with the characters as they become part of the story. Characters, of which there are many, are lightly drawn, and historical figures can clearly be seen to be representative of the social class and situation of the times. However, for many of the characters in the contemporary storyline, their inner thoughts and outer dialogue are realistic and believable, and characters are seen from different perspectives . The exchanges between the arrogant son and the long-suffering Lady of the Manor, show Pamela as submissive and hen-pecked as she is undermined by Charles's dismissive and impatient comments. However, she shows an inner toughness in dealing with some pushy people, with a firm pony club instructor manner, and can also be insensitive and abrupt with people in New Zealand.
As a story that highlights the changes in the English class system over time and what that meant for one family, it shows individuals who adapt and deal with traditional roles and expectations; and who, in the modern day find a positive way of adjusting to their changes in fortune.
This is a quietly entertaining story, and for those who enjoy the likes of Downton Abbey, ideal for a relaxing summer afternoon read .
Reviewer: Clare Lyons
Cloud Ink Press