I seem to have discovered Victoria Holt rather late in my reading experience, but I’m doing my best to catch up now as her classics are republished by Sourcebooks. This, in my opinion, is one of her best so far, incorporating as it does a number of mysteries for the heroine to uncover and then solve as well as an array of potential suitors, all of whom may also be possible perpetrators of the crime that led indirectly to the death of the heroine’s real mother.
Jessie – Opal Jessica Clavering, to give her full name – has grown up in the shadow of Oakland Hall, literally as well as metaphorically, since her father’s gambling debts forced him to sell their ancestral home and much of its lands two years before Jessie’s birth, and the family has lived in the Hall’s Dower House ever since. As she enters her teens, Jessie becomes increasingly fascinated with the Hall and the ‘barbarians’ (in the words of the woman Jessie believes to be her mother) who now live there. When the Hall’s owner returns from Australia to recuperate from an accident in which he lost his leg, Jessie saves him from suffering a second accident, and the two become friends.
Jessie learns how her new friend rose from poverty to own a number of highly profitable opal mines, and he tells her all about Peacocks, his house in Australia, and The Peacock, his illegitimate son. He recounts the story of his prized opal, The Green Flash at Sunset, believed to have been stolen by one of his best friends, and Jessie learns from her family’s old servants about secrets relating to her true parentage. As Jessie reaches adulthood, her friend’s health starts to fail and he calls The Peacock over from Australia to see him one last time.
Jessie takes an instant dislike to The Peacock, but then she is given an ultimatum: she and The Peacock will jointly inherit the mines, the houses and the opals (including the missing Green Flash), but only if they marry each other. The pair strike a deal, and after the old man’s death, they head to Australia as man and wife in name only. Slowly they grow closer, but Jessie has her doubts about her husband’s innocence regarding the disappearance of the Green Flash. Her investigations repeatedly lead her into danger, and even when she’s rescued, doubts remain about who was responsible right up to her gripping showdown with the true thief.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of Australia in its early days and of the various inhabitants of the mining town Jessie ends up in. The mysteries drew me in and kept me guessing right up to the end, although the final reveal fell a little flat. Not a perfect book, by any means, but certainly one I would never mind rereading.
Raised in the shadow of her family’s financial ruin, Jessica Clavering has never felt as though she fit in. When her only friend, an elderly neighbor, offers her the chance at a new life, she’s eager to take it. His only condition: she must marry her son, Joss.
The newlyweds inherit a fabled opal mine in Australia. It’s only once they arrive on the faraway continent that Jessica starts to uncover her family’s dark past and her connection to the Green Flash, an exquisite and spellbinding opal. The stone arouses a dangerous desire in anyone who sees it—even her husband.
Read an excerpt.