My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Crimson Rooms is a period novel set in mid 20's England, with the primary character being Evelyn Gifford; a young, female attorney, working her way to gaining a full lawyer position by being a clerk in a small firm. In the beginning, her character seemed a little one-dimensional, but after reading the story, it seems that she had to seem that way, as the book is really about her own self-discovery and letting go of some of the constraints she'd placed upon herself, while at the same time, strengthening her convictions in her chosen vocation.
Living in an all female, multi-generational home, the family is still recovering (daily, it seems) from the death of Evelyn's brother, James, in the war. Their world is rocked when a late night knock on the door introduces into their lives a free-spirited woman and the young son she claims is the product of a relationship with James during the war, where she was a nurse and he a wounded soldier.
Adding insult to injury, it seems that Evelyn's father had been in communication with the woman, even sending her a monthly stipend in her homeland of Canada. Suspect of the woman's motivation, Evelyn grudgingly forms an attachment to the child, Edmund, with whom she quickly falls in love while still being cautious about his mother's motivations.
Evelyn gets her first professional 'break' when she's assigned to assist in two cases; a case of kidnapping, which brings forth social class issues, those of poverty and alcohol abuse vs. attachment and well-being. Additionally, the issue of sending children to live in the Canada Territory for adoption is explored, and revealed to be nothing more than sending kids out as cheap labor. The second case is a murder case in which her firm is defending the accused; Steven Wheeler, who is charged with shooting his bride of less than a month in the heart during an afternoon picnic.
Without having any spoilers, I can say only that Evelyn's character blossoms and she discovers throughout the novel how enmeshed ones life can become with those around you, and that a person's free will to make choices that will make their life livable are not always in line with 'justice' as seen by the eyes of the law.
Learning to let go, Evelyn also learns when to choose logic over lust, compassion over former convictions, and to open herself to new experiences and relationships. There were periods when I felt about this book as I did In the Woods by Tana French except that, as opposed to In the Woods, in the end I felt like I appreciated the author's choice of pace in certain sections because I think it added to the characters' overall development.
McMahon has actually written several novels prior to The Crimson Rooms, including The Alchemist's Daughter: A Novel, and I look forward to reading more. The Crimson Rooms was released on February 8th, and can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and Indie Bound.