Paperback Review: Bristol House, by Beverly Swerling

Bristol House, by Beverly Swerling. Plume, 398 pp. $16

A friend of mine and I were talking a while back about the value of books in “books help me experience things so I don’t have to go out and actually do it” situations. Bristol House, by Beverly Swerling is one of these situations. Traveling to London for research would be fabulous. Living in a house that’s haunted by an old Carthusian monk would completely freak me out.

And yet, Annie Kendall remains at Bristol House. The back bedroom, the room she had been planning on turning into her office, is haunted. Every once in a while she gets the feeling that the spirit of the Carthusian monk–who still inhabits the place–is sending her signs. She doesn’t know what they mean, but she knows they’re important. Annie was sent to London by the Shalom Foundation to learn more about the Jew of Holburn. Soon after arriving she is led to Geoffrey Harris, a television personality with research of his own, and she realizes he may be able to help her find what she’s looking for. The more she digs, however, the more she uncovers mysteries surrounding the Shalom Foundation and its administration.

Bristol House was a little slow at first. There’s a lot of history here–from present-day Judaism to the sixteenth century with a stop in World War II–everything ties together in ways you wouldn’t even imagine, but it takes a while to get there. That being said, once the book falls into a rhythm–about 1/3 of the way through–it doesn’t stop. The last half of the book is intense enough to make up for the tedious exposition in the first half.

I like stories that have a foundation in the real world. The tunnels that run underneath Holburn–which make an appearance in the book–were used in World War II. Little bits about the monks are also drawn from history.

I don’t know how I feel about the inclusion of the parts from Dom Justin and Giacomo the Lombard. They certainly helped with the understanding of the whole of the story, but I’m sure that same understanding could have been relayed in different ways. They didn’t take away from the story too much–not looking back at least–but they did dampen the building intensity of the Annie and Geoff story. (This may be why the first half of the book went a little slower for me.)

Swerling is also the author of Juffie Kane, Mollie Pride, City of Promise, City of God, City of Glory, Shadowbrook, and City of Dreams.

Bristol House is available in paperback.

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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