I was really thrown at the end of the book!!! What an unexpected twist!!! I thought the three women shared a timeline, but it wasn’t so. Clemmie lived in 1872, and she was the girl who was killed and Pudding found out about. It was clever to confuse the reader because Irene’s husband and his father shared the same name and Isaac and Eli Tanner were referred by their Christian names or by simply their surnames!!!
In the end Eli Tanner killed Alistair Hadleigh and confessed to the crime because he could not allow Donny Cartwright to swing for it. In jail Eli, who is a man of seventy, confesses that he killed Alistair because he killed Clemmie, and he knew that when Pudding and Irene brought the doll. In the parts about Clemmie, she and Eli go to Swindon and stay with his cousin, his wife Polly and their daughter Betsy. Clemmie can’t settle in the city, so she eventually leaves. When she is sneaking out, Betsy wakes up and gives her her doll. Clemmie’s plan is to make her way back to Slaughterford and confess what she knows about Isaac Tanner to the police. That is the only way Eli will return to the village. Her sisters and mother welcome her with open arms, and in the meantime she tries to practise the exercises that Alistair taught her to accuse Isaac Tanner. This Alistair is not Irene’s husband, but her father. It is difficult for her to find her voice, and she goes to Alistair’s office in the mill, trying to find the peace that she knows she will find there, and it is there where she is killed.
In prison Alistair says that Clemmie was the woman he loved and planned to marry. Around that time there was a robbery in which he, another brother and his father took part, and as a result, Isaac hit a worker, who survived but was out cold for many weeks. Clemmie planned to confess that she had heard Isaac plan the robbery, and that was what she was trying to say. Pudding tells Eli that Alistair couldn’t have killed Clemmie because he wasn’t even born then, but Eli says that it doesn’t matter if the killer was him or his father, all he wanted was to avenge his Clemmie.
When Irene and Pudding come together, and Pudding repeats what Eli says, Irene says that Alistair’s father couldn’t have killed Clemmie because he was in America getting married. By talking to Ma Tanner, Hilarius, and Clemmie’s mother, the two young women finally discover who killed poor Clemmie. It was Nancy, and the reason is that when Rose and Clemmie came to see her and Nancy learnt that the young girl was pregnant, she thought that her brother had got her pregnant. Nancy was unhealthily close to her brother, so he was jealous of any woman who could steal his affection for her, but his marriage was necessary as he had lost everything in gambling, and they needed his bride’s money. So it was Nancy who found Clemmie in the office and who killed her out of jealousy and fear for what she might reveal. Hilarius just kept quiet about some things he saw his mistress do out of loyalty.
Pudding sees Irene confront Nancy. The woman never acknowledges what Irene accuses her of, but in the end Irene makes her see that because of her own crime she has lost Alistair, the only person she loved. That, Irene reckoned later, is punishment enough, and at the end of the book Nancy is gone. Irene toyed with the idea of accusing her, but she thought that there was little evidence: just the doll found, which was the doll that Clemmie had with her all the time after her stay in Swindon. Nancy burnt the doll, and Hilarius’s testimony couldn’t be taken seriously. Nancy leaves with a one-return ticket to Italy, and Irene thinks that she won’t hear from her again.
At the end of the book the tone is lighter. Pudding is happy to have her brother back,and even though things are far from being easy for them, all she cares about is that they are together. Apart from that, Peter Dempsey is sweet on her, and in this last chapter Irene helps her get dolled up for her first date with Peter. I am so happy for her. As for Irene, she doesn’t know what she will do, whether she will sell the farm or whether she will stay. Yet, she makes a decision: write the story of Clemmie and with the proceeds she will help the Matlocks and the Tanners. She then thinks that having Pudding is good enough a reason to stay, and she thinks she could rekindled her correspondence with Cora, Alistair’s friend, and she can also ask her old friend to come to her as the scandal with Fin is now old news. I am glad that she is over Fin. He wrote a last letter to her, implying that they could meet in some hotel, and when Irene read what he meant, he realises that she has never been important to him, so she simply discarded his letter.
I really loved the book, and I was surprised about the twist at the end. At first, I was confused, but when I realised that there were two timelines, I really loved how the author did it. The story about Clemmie was so sad. I really loved this mute, lovely girl, and I was sorry that someone took her life when she didn’t deserve it.