The Butterfly Cabinet
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), Jul 26 2011, $22.99
In 1968 nonagenarian Maddie McGlade is a resident of the Oranmore Nursing Home in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. A decade ago she promised to tell her last charge Anna a story of when Maddie was a young housemaid at the Oranmore Castle in 1892. Now pregnant Anna wants to know what happened to the girl who was her Aunt Charlotte though long dead before she was born. She asks Nanny Madd, the last living person who was a witness to what led to the death of her aunt and the incarceration for much of a year of her pregnant grandma (carrying Anna’s mom).
Seven decades of concealing what happened led to the death of four yeas old Charlotte Ormond in 1892. Charlotte’s rigid mother Harriet the butterfly collector was accused and convicted of murdering her daughter. The nasty woman insisted it was an accident, but no one believed her as she was a strict disciplinarian of her child though like her daughter pinned inside a glass prison just like her butterflies.
Based on a true event, this super historical thriller rotates perspective from Maddie telling her side of what occurred and the prison diaries written by Harriet but kept by Maddie. The former nanny explains her fears including of falling back into abject poverty while arrogant Harriet explains her frustrations of going from one prison to another and if freed from jail back to her family prison. Readers will appreciate this wry intelligent suspense summed up nicely at the end by Maddie when she muses that the Russians and Americans are in space while the Irish cannot travel from Belfast to Derry without killing someone.