I downloaded Once Upon a River because it's a historical mystery, which I love, but also the mention of folk tales caught my eye; fantasy is my new favourite genre and I've always adored fairy tales! But I was thrilled by just how good this story is, and how clever! I completely fell in love with the characters, so much so that it's now one of my all-time favourite books!
The story is set in the mid-nineteenth century, at a time when events that might have once seemed magical can now be explained by science. But at the ancient Swan Inn, on the banks of the River Thames, they still love telling each other stories. Some of their tales have been told and re-told for generations, but the strangest of all is when one mid-summer night an injured man stumbles through its doors and promptly collapses. In his arms is the body of a little dead girl - who miraculously comes back to life. As her story spreads through the village, and then further afield, more than one person comes forward to claim her. But who is telling the truth, and who is telling a tale?
Once Upon a River has a host of fascinating characters and the author takes her time to explain who everyone is, their history, and how they fit into the story. So there are dozens of these enchanting little stories taking place alongside the main mystery. But the really clever thing is that this gives the effect of the story flowing between each character in the same way the river flows through each location in the story. Genius!
I particularly loved the characters of Robert Armstrong, the illegitimate son of an Earl and a black maid, who does most of the detecting, and Rita Sunday, the nurse who has seen so many childbirths it's put her right off ever falling in love and getting married.
Will you love this book as much as I did? If you like historical mysteries, then yes. If you adore traditional 'let's sit by the fireside and I'll tell you a story' kind of books, you will definitely love this one. If the mention of folk lore and fantasy puts you off, those elements are done with a very light hand. The film/TV rights have already been sold to Kudos (Broadchurch/Grantchester) and I can't wait to see what they do with with it.
Once Upon a River is a fabulous read that deserves to become an instant classic, one that will be read, and re-read, and enjoyed for years to come. One of my top 3 reads this year.
Thank you to Diane Setterfield and Doubleday (Transworld/Random House) for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and reviewed voluntarily.