The Amber Maze
by Christopher Bowden
The Amber Maze
While staying in a Dorset cottage, Hugh Mullion finds a mysterious key down the side of an antique chair. No one can say how long the key has been there or what it opens.
Hugh’s search for answers will unlock the secrets of the troubled life of a talented artist, destined to be hailed a neglected genius fifty years too late. And no secret is darker than that of The Amber Maze, from whose malign influence he never escaped.
The trail takes Hugh from Edwardian Oxfordshire to 1960s Camden Town, where the ghosts of the past are finally laid to rest.
Delicately crafted noir fiction at its best.
Before reading, I noticed the author’s previous work had been reviewed and praised by Julian Fellowes, Andrew Marr, and Sir Derek Jacobi. I’m not kidding, I felt both excited and – if I’m honest – a little out of my depth, but then thought, hey, I’m a reader too, so in I jumped!
My first impression was that the story had a touch of “Brideshead Revisited” about it – which can never be a bad thing. The story got off to an intriguing start.
Hugh was an unconventional lead character, his curiosity certainly leading him down many a strange path. (He had a history of solving mysteries. I loved how this earlier event (known mysteriously as Dorothy & that book!) was drip-fed to the reader throughout; it kept me intrigued and showed Hugh’s tendency to get caught up in odd little cases) His obsession was born from a key found down the side of an old armchair. It takes a certain type of person to latch on to such an item and allow it to take over his life. it was as if he, himself, needed another mystery in his life, so dogged was his determination to follow this tale through.
I loved the beginning, tracking down the owner of the chair (Hester)and then subsequently finding the box to fit the key (owned by Lionel – Hester’s grandfather). However, I felt the story started to drag a little in the middle, when Hugh was reading the journal describing Lionel’s experience at the maze. When Hugh actually entered the maze himself and panicked within it, only to then find his guide had suddenly died of a heart attack, I felt the story build in tension. Maybe I was looking for a connection that wasn’t there, but the tension spiked, as did my curiosity to read on. Unfortunately, that tension fizzled out.
Hugh’s conversations with Hester gave by far the most fascinating insight into Lionel’s story. Their chats were peppered with first-person narratives from Lionel, explaining the ins and outs of The Amber Maze secret society. Although, for me, the style was a little jarring. jumping from Hugh and Hester talking to these personal accounts from Lionel. The story didn’t flow easily and made me skip back a few pages to see where these Lionel moments had come from – I never did find out, they were just there.
Hugh’s fascination with the family did verge on obsessive, although his own family – particularly his wife, Kate – did make the occasional appearance to break up his obsession. His quest for information revealed a family beset with secrets, and seemingly unwilling to share them. Lionel, especially, shunned the spotlight, but that may have been as a result of fearing the man in the shadows.
The exhibition at the gallery of Lionel’s work gave the artist the recognition he himself had seemed to avoid. His granddaughter, Hester, seemed to delight in telling her tales, wearing her favourite pantaloons without a care in the world – such polar opposites. Yet, why had she waited until now to tell his story? And why tell a stranger, rather than her own daughter? I didn’t quite get that.
It was an interesting story, gently-paced, and, for me, very much in a “Brideshead” style in part. I enjoyed the story, although did feel as though I missed some key points along the way.
Christopher Bowden lives in south London.
The Amber Maze is the sixth of his colour-themed novels, which have been praised variously by Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay.
Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/christopher.bowden.90
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