Reviewed by Kay Brooks
Mary McAllister has spent 60 years in the marble mansion that stands looking over Mill River. Her only source of company has been Father O’Brian, her friend, protector and confidant. Her life has been fraught with tragedy and debilitating anxiety. When Mary is told she only has months left to live, she knows it is time to put a plan into action. Hidden with Mary are many secrets that, once revealed, will change the lives of the inhabitants of Mill River forever.
The novel is set in the quiet, fictional town of Mill River where the people see themselves as being a close community. Everybody knows everybody, making Mary’s reclusiveness seem even more unusual. The novel is packed full of interesting characters, Mary included. It is easy to sympathise with her tragic story. Father O’Brian, too, is incredibly human with inner battles of his own. There’s a young widowed police officer, Kyle Hanson, who moved from the dangerous streets of New York to find a place to bring his daughter up without the worry of losing her father. There’s a primary school teacher, Claudia Simon, with a secret past of her own and another police officer on a power trip believing anything he wants is for his taking. The there’s the adorable Daisy Delain (Crazy Daisy), an unusual character with learning difficulties who makes potions. She, like Mary, is also very isolated because of her differences.
Although starting a novel in the unorthodox way of having the protagonist die, the storyline moves between Mary’s naïve days as a young woman and the present, where Father O’ Brian is struggling to deal with the heartache of losing his closest friend. One suggestion from me would have been to date each year as the story flicks to make it easier to follow. Sometimes I had to read quite far in to discover whether I was in the past or present. There are also several subplots in both the past and the present, which allow the reader to get to know the other Mill River inhabitants, including a dangerous stalker, a blossoming romance and long-lost relatives reappearing. Those characters who appear both in the past and present are of particular interest as Chan has cleverly made sure that their development is clear.
There are a lot of morals communicated through the story, such as be kind to your neighbours and don’t judge people without taking a chance to get to know them. At times it did seem a bit sickly sweet, but then Mill River comes across as a magical place where that is acceptable.
An enchanting tale with many unexpected twists and turns.