In 1963, Abbie returns home to the Lake District from Paris after splitting with her married lover. Most of Abbie’s family, a truly sour bunch, blames her for Kate’s death, claiming that Abbie and her illegitimate daughter made Kate feel ashamed and despondent. Abbie doesn’t buy it, though, and turns to Millie for answers. As Abbie attempts to revitalize the family’s jewelry business, one revelation follows another as Millie speaks about her years as governess to an aristocratic Russian family.
The easy prose style draws one in immediately, and the setting of the early segments offers much promise: glittering St. Petersburg during the lead-up to the Bolshevik Revolution. However, the story is let down by over-the-top characters whose rapid emotional about-faces are hard to tolerate. Abbie puts up with terrible treatment from her father, brother, and ex and veers between telling them off and forgiving them. Countess Olga, Millie’s employer, is the epitome of cruelty and selfishness, although guessing what she’ll do next provides some entertainment.
The mystery surrounding Millie’s adoption of the young Kate from a London orphanage, and how a piece of rare amber came to be found in Kate’s belongings, pulls the two story strands together well, but more subtlety in the telling would have gone a long way.
The Amber Keeper was published by Amazon's Lake Union imprint in late 2014 in trade paperback ($14.95, 384pp) and ebook (currently $1.99). This review first appeared in May's Historical Novels Review.