Book Reviews

The Secret Rooms: A Castle Filled with Intrigue, a Plotting Duchess and a Mysterious Death by Catherine Bailey

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List Price: £5.49


Kindle Edition: 455 Pages.

Published: 01 November 2012 by Penguin



A plotting Duchess, a mysterious death and a castle full of lies in Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms.

At 6 am on 21 April 1940 John the 9th Duke of Rutland, and one of Britain's wealthiest men, ended his days, virtually alone, lying on a makeshift bed in a dank cramped suite of rooms in the servants' quarters of his own home, Belvoir Castle, in Leicestershire.

For weeks, as his health deteriorated, his family, his servants - even the King's doctor - pleaded with him to come out, but he refused.

After his death, his son and heir, Charles, the 10th Duke of Rutland, ordered that the rooms be locked up and they remained untouched for sixty years.

What lay behind this extraordinary set of circumstances?

For the first time, in The Secret Rooms, Catherine Bailey unravels a complex and compelling tale of love, honour and betrayal, played out in the grand salons of Britain's stately homes at the turn of the twentieth century, and on the battlefields of the Western Front. At its core is a secret so dark that it consumed the life of the man who fought to his death to keep it hidden. This extraordinary mystery from the author of Black Diamonds, perfect for lovers of Downton Abbey, Brideshead Revisited and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.

Praise for The Secret Rooms:

'Reads like the best kind of mystery story. It is a tale of mistresses and heirlooms, cowardice and connivance, and a deeply dysfunctional family...gripping' Sunday Times

'Astonishing...jaw-dropping...It would spoil the book if I revealed the whole works, suffice it to say...what a family' Sunday Telegraph

'An extraordinary detective operation' John Julius Norwich

Catherine Bailey is the author of Black Diamonds. She read history at Oxford University and is a successful, award-winning television producer and director, making a range of critically acclaimed documentary films inspired by her interest in twentieth century history. She lives in West London.


5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars5.0 Stars  by Anne

Fascinating stuff

This is a story about privilege - and it is a true story. It tells of secrets in the life of the 9th Duke of Rutland (died in 1940). At the time in which he lived there were only 33 dukes in Britain and he was a man who inherited land, stately homes and a place in the country that ordinary mortals like myself can only dream about. The author began by investigating the experiences of the Duke and those of men from his estates who fought in the first world war using the family's extensive archives. She discovered quickly that there are some huge missing chunks of material relating to three time periods in the Duke's life - it appears that the Duke spent his dying days destroying evidence of something in his life. The book that was being planned then changed its focus and the author spent her time trying to find out what the Duke was trying to make sure no one every knew and why it was so important that he would spend his last hours in the small rooms where the archives were kept to the extent that he even died on the sofa there.

This is a strangely written book. The author tells the story of her discoveries and thought processes as well as the results of her research and her thoughts about what it all means. The book, therefore, changes character as you read and is quite uneven in style. There is also quite a lot of effort put into trying to create an atmosphere of foreboding and doom - staff in the present day house keep muttering obscure warnings about her research for example. The rooms aren't "secret" and the actual secrets which are unfolded after a lot of research (often displayed in great detail) don't, and couldn't, live up to the hype.

I was totally gripped, however, by the narrative. The book is absolutely fascinating and what the author reveals is an incredible sense of entitlement by the 9th Duke and his family, a truly dysfunctional family and the regular use of power and privilege to avoid unpleasantness. If you didn't already have a dim view of the aristocracy before reading this book you certainly will have by the end.

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