Poet’s Cottage – Josephine Pennicott
Pan Macmillan Australia, 2012
In the idyllic Tasmanian village of Pencubitt stands famous Poet’s Cottage – the place where that draws creative spirits to itself, the place where the brilliant and notorious writer Pearl Tatlow was violently murdered in 1936. When her granddaughter Sadie and Sadie’s own daughter Betty return to claim the house, they find themselves claiming the unresolved mystery with it, turning over old ground with their questions and uncovering strange, conflicting stories of the long dead woman along the way. What really happened to Pearl that terrible day in Poet’s Cottage?
Tasmanian-born Pennicott draws elements of real history together with an Agatha Christie style murder mystery to create a suspenseful and Gothic edged story of beauty, passion and bitterness. Alternating between the lives of Sadie in the present day, Pearl’s friend Birdie in the 30s and Pearl’s daughter Thomasina in both, details trickle out slowly, but it is not clear just how much of each story can be trusted. I did feel let down by the ending, which was weaker than it should have been after so careful a build-up, and the introduction of romance to Sadie’s part of the story felt forced. Overall, though, the characters were rounded and intriguing, with the troubled, flamboyant, outrageous and deeply complicated Pearl Tatlow a fascinating heart to the book. Is she villain, heroine or victim? Maybe all three, but she’s certainly memorable.