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rutherford-park-a-novel-by-elizabeth-cooke-x-200Reviewed by Colleen Turner

Rutherford Park, the elegantly rambling estate of the Cavendish family in the Yorkshire countryside of England, seems a dream to those looking at it from a distance. Money and manners nearly ooze from its well-tended walls and gardens and the family is delightfully steeped in the traditions and rules that govern those of the elitist class. But just peek a little more closely at the inhabitants of Rutherford Park and you will see that not everyone is happy in this long standing status quo and just about everyone under its roof are hiding secrets.

Octavia Cavendish learned long ago that her marriage to William, the patriarch of the family, was not going to be built on love. Stuffy and rigid William needed her money to maintain his beloved Rutherford Park and she, in turn, was expected to be satisfied with the position and duties inherent in becoming the lady of this exquisite house. So over the years she has stamped down her humor and excitement for life that she has been told is unseemly in one of her rank. That is until a secret from William’s past comes literally knocking on their door and Octavia begins questioning this stifling life she has complacently agreed to live. This secret, and the ways in which Octavia handles it, might be the undoing of the family.

As this bombshell unfolds so do the actions and devastating consequences of their children, all of whom seem ready to explode under the weight of their traditional expectations. Their son, Harry, is eager to cut free from his future responsibilities as the heir to the Cavendish family and to pursue a life as a pilot. Before that can occur, however, his youthful dalliances bring about the death of one of their housemaids and an unexpected addition to the household. Their eldest daughter, Louisa, is more than happy to be the beautiful, petted and naïve daughter making the season in London and on the lookout for a well matched husband. That is until she meets a charming Frenchman who, while below her class, completely enchants her into making a scandalous choice, one made more shocking by his connection to William’s long hidden secret. Their youngest daughter, Charlotte, is already presenting a very independent personality and quietly but insistently makes it clear she plans to be a modern woman.

As the lives of the Cavendish family are exposed along with those of the servants that live below stairs the reader is able to see just how twisted and complicated their lives can be, regardless of rank or money. If the family is to have any chance of surviving they must be able to bend the traditions binding them together and learn to adjust to the ever changing world swirling around them, even as eminent war threatens to change their lives once again.

Any fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs will love this glimpse into a privileged yet highly fractured family. You have the strict, unbending traditionalist father, the stifled wife longing for some freedom of her own, the more modern children ready to break free from the binding responsibilities of the class they were born into, the servants who dutifully serve those beyond the green baize door while being divided between those wanting to stay true to their never ending duties and those that believe they deserve more; everyone is here. While William, Octavia, Harry and Louisa were the most developed characters, I also enjoyed the smaller roles played by Charlotte, the servants and some of the outside characters interspersed in the story, to the point that I wished we were given more of them.

The story ends only slightly settled and with enough left unanswered that I can only hope Elizabeth Cooke will provide a sequel that shows how the characters have moved on and grown after the events in Rutherford Park. Did William learn to loosen his hold on tradition and show his wife that he does in fact love her? Will Harry serve his country well and learn to take responsibility for his actions? What kind of woman will Charlotte grow up to be? I only wish I knew!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Berkley Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.