The Secret Rooms (2012) by Catherine Bailey was recommended while I was searching for a summer read through the thousands of titles on Tanglewood’s library shelves. I wanted a quick read. A fellow reader handed me this title. She assured me it would read like a novel.
Right away let me say, The Secret Rooms does read quickly. Do not be put off by its size or the fact it is nonfiction, located in the History section.
Belvoir Castle is located in Leicestershire. While the castle may have been built in the Gothic Style, this is not a novel filled with horror and violence. Belvoir is a very real castle of 356 rooms. And, as you can imagine, a large staff was required to keep it running smoothly.
The book opens in April, 1940 with the arrival of the King’s doctor who had been summoned because John Henry Montagu Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland, was quite ill. After reading the description of the Duke’s final days at Belvoir you will certainly want to keep turning the pages.
The teaser on the book’s front cover, “A Castle Filled with Intrigue, a Plotting Duchess and a Mysterious Death”, is fairly accurate. The castle does hold intrigue. It is centuries old with all sorts of nooks and crannies to hold mysteries. The stories those walls must hold. Violet, John’s mother, was definitely a plotter. But, was the plotting because she was a despicable person or because she was loving? The mysterious death and the author’s search for the truth is a major player in The Secret Rooms.
Author Catherine Bailey came to Belvoir with the idea of writing a book on the subject of the impact of WWI on estates such as Belvoir. 1700 workers from the many villages which are part of the estate volunteered to fight in the war. Their jobs were held for them, their families paid no rent (less what they were paid by the army). It is easy to see why the workers remained loyal to the Duke’s family.
The author’s original book idea was put on hold after she began to search the family archives. You will learn quickly that the family papers held way more than personal letters from the front or notes between relatives. What caught Bailey’s attention was the major gap of missing correspondence that set her on the trail of intrigue, mystery and plotting.
I could not help but picture Downton Abbey as I turned the pages of this book. If you are familiar with that PBS series, you may understand how that could happen. The final quarter of The Secret Rooms moved slowly for me. It covered more of the wartime efforts than the family. But it was interesting all the same.
The Secret Rooms is quite a read and well researched. I think you will find the photos, maps of the estate, the family trees all very helpful. I know I flipped back to the castle layouts several times as I read. I encourage you to read this book.
John Grisham does not take Tanglewood readers too far from Sebring, just a road trip to northern Florida, to the Gainesville and Panhandle areas in his 2016 The Whistler. Grisham weaves a tale of corruption, Indian casinos, and the legalities involved with it all. It all begins take form when the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC) receives information from an unknown source about a corrupt judge and crimes committed.
JBC investigators Lacy Stoltz and Hugo Hatch are assigned the job of searching out the necessary information to back up this informant’s claims. They set up a meeting with the source in St. Augustine. It is at that meeting they learn the identity of the judge.
The judge being accused is Claudia McDover of the 24th District, in the fictional county of Brunswick. Greg Myers, if that is his real name, is the person relaying that information to Stoltz and Hatch. Turns out Myers was a lawyer until he served time for real estate fraud.
Judge McDover has made big bucks by aiding the Coast Mafia. She would bend laws to favor the real estate development near the casino. For her efforts, she received 250K monthly from the profits of the casino. McDover did not do this all alone. Vonn Dubose, Coast Mafia boss, is a big player alongside the judge. He wields a lot of power over many connected to the casino and development.
All is not sweet and cozy in the casino business. For starters, not every member of the Tappacola Nation welcomed the idea of a casino being built. But as usual money speaks volumes and the casino was made a reality. Real estate development also became part of the package. So, the scene is ripe for potential corruption on many levels.
Even with the information Myers is giving to the JBC, there is not much that can be done. Everyone and everything seems to be protected by laws. Stoltz and Hatch take their investigation to the reservation where they are to meet up with someone who has credible information. The meeting is just a ruse and it all goes downhill for Stoltz and Hatch.
The methods used against the two unsuspecting investigators convinces the JBC director to call in the FBI. Piece by piece all the puzzle begins to take shape. The Coast Mafia and their underlings doing the dirty work made some mistakes. Doors to finding just who is responsible are beginning to open.
Of course, there is still the question of who the mole is that is leaking the information. McDover and Dubose just know they need to find the mole. They act on their suspicions. Lacy and her crazy brother Gunther come to the rescue.
The Whistler is worth your time. The Tappacola Nations is fictional as is the county where the judge resided in court. But, Grisham works in some basic facts about casinos, laws governing casinos, at least the ones in Florida, and the compensation the tribal residents receive.