It’s no secret how much I enjoy Trisha Ashley’s books, so I was delighted when NetGalley offered me the latest one. The first page was rather a downer for me. I’d had a stressful evening and was looking forward to a cosy read in bed, only to find the book begins with a fatal car crash. This is crucial to the story and a thread throughout but fear not, unhappy events of the past aren’t allowed to prevent present happiness.
When Izzy was sixteen, she was apparently driving a Range Rover up a private drive when it crashed, killing the son of the owner of the big house, Sweetwell. Izzy spent some time in a coma, after which she could remember nothing about the accident. Fast forward to the present day: she’s in her thirties and returning home after working in India, full of plans to set up her own retro clothing business. Soon after landing, while being driven by her then future father-in-law, she’s in yet another car crash. For a moment she finds herself hovering above the car when, according to her, she has a glimpse of heaven (as after the first crash) but is sent back to earth. After this, she increasingly has dreams and flashbacks which seem to reveal more of what really happened on that fateful night. She sets herself a mission (her word) to question everyone involved to get at the truth.
Home is Halfhidden, one of those incredible villages with a busy pub, several shops and thriving small artisanal businesses. (Similar fantasy villages from earlier books get a mention every now and then: Middlemoss, Sticklepond, Winter’s End.) Like many Ashley heroines, Izzy’s parentage is unusual and she’s been brought up by her glamorous Aunt Debo and her friend Judy. They run Debo’s Desperate Dogs, a sanctuary for dogs which are hard to rehome. This book is definitely for you if you like dogs because it’s full of them. The sanctuary is constantly short of funds but Debo’s little family is allowed to live in the lodge of the big house. Then the estate is inherited by Rufus, an unknown quantity. They have the lodge for life, but will he allow them to keep the dogs on his land?
That’s just one theme. Old relationships break up, new ones begin, and Izzy’s friends are deeply involved in improving Halfhidden by setting up holidays and day trips cashing in on the village’s reputation for ghosts. This is a world in which someone always knows someone who can supply materials, do a handy job, set up a new business without any of the frustrations which normally accompany such enterprises. It’s all so easy! And the place is full of wonderful cooks, so this is a book for foodies as well (recipes at the end).
Aha, you’re wondering already, what of the new owner of Sweetwell? Rufus is tall, handsome, runs a business selling garden antiques, seems unfriendly at first but soon turns out to be a softie. Is he the one for Izzy? And what of her mission? Two people connected with the accident are unpleasant and refuse to tell the truth about it, but truth will out, with the dreaded word ‘closure’ appearing. Phew, there’s so much going on in these books! A large cast of characters (including the dogs), people to love, people to loathe, everyone busy. I can’t say it’s my favourite Trisha Ashley book but great fun to read as always. It’s out very soon, on 26th February.