The Secret Staircase
May 14, 2021

Book Review

The Secret Staircase

Sheila Connolly

reviewed by Pam Guynn

The Secret Staircase by Sheila Connolly brings together a dead body, historic preservation, and several mysteries about the former inhabitants of a home built in the 1800’s.

Kate Hamilton’s renovation experience is with modern institutions in the hospitality industry, but her childhood friend Lisbeth Scott asks her to help revitalize her hometown, which has lost its industry and is fading fast. As part of the effort to convert the fictional town of Asheboro, Maryland to its Victorian village roots, the first goal is to renovate the Barton Mansion. A hidden staircase is found behind a wall, and at its foot is a body. Did the individual fall or was it murder?

Kate is a likeable character who wants to do what is right for her hometown. She makes a lot of mental lists, and occasionally, she writes them down. The reader gets to see into her thoughts with the first-person point of view. However, to me, she seemed disorganized and unsystematic; inconsistent with her professional experience. Most of the other characters are pleasant, but there isn’t a lot of depth except for Carroll, Morgan, and Bethany Wallace.

The author does a good job of world-building. I was able to easily visualize the setting. The smalltown atmosphere came through. The plot is straightforward and somewhat predictable, but the story is interesting and kept me engaged. Unraveling the mysteries of the house and its inhabitants was twisty and enjoyable. The ending wrapped things up nicely and set the stage for book four.

Overall, this book was an entertaining and steadily paced cozy mystery. What will Kate and Carroll uncover about the home’s original owners, Henry and Mary Barton? Did they marry for convenience or love? Did they have children? What happened to Mary? While there is information on Henry in the local newspaper of their era, there is scant information on Mary. Who is the dead man behind the wall and how did he die? When and why did he die? Will the preservation and renovation work on the house even be allowed to continue?

This is the third book in the Victorian Village Mysteries series and worked fine as a standalone novel, but reading the books in order would likely provide additional character depth. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Readers that enjoy cozy mysteries and history will likely enjoy this series.

St. Martin’s Press – Minotaur Books and Sheila Connolly provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for August 24, 2021.