Saturday, May 21, 2022

Fiona Mountain's The Keeper of Songs movingly evokes the folk music heritage of the '60s

Downton Abbey meets Sharyn McCrumb in swinging 1960s Britain.

In 2002, when Silva Brightmore’s father John passes away unexpectedly in his fifties, she gets pulled into solving the mystery posed by his last words for her: “Find Molly.” Silva’s mum had abandoned their family years beforehand, and after finding a record album sleeve with a photo of a beautiful raven-haired folksinger, Molly Marrison, Silva begins wondering if her dad had had a romance with this young woman as well.

Silva works as a housemaid (or more accurately put, conservation assistant) at Chatsworth House, the stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in the Peak District. Beautiful views of this idyllic setting fill the novel’s pages. As she searches for where Molly might be, Silva sorts through her feelings for an old boyfriend from her teenage years, Robbie Nightingale, a traveling song-collector who returns to support her in her grief.

The story wanders back periodically to the watershed year of 1967, a time of experimentation with free love and drugs, when folk music spoke directly to young people’s souls. Fiona Mountain places readers in the moment as Molly casts a spell over her audience with her passionate interpretation of an old ballad involving runaway lovers and a terrible murder. While stirring up nostalgia for this long-ago time, the author adds a good dose of realism, since women in particular were both romanticized and stigmatized for their personal choices in the late ‘60s.

One aspect of the mystery feels predictable (though not to Silva), but working out the “why” is just as interesting as the “what.” The story exhibits the author’s deep affection for Chatsworth and the villages within the picturesque estate setting. With the skill of an eloquent balladeer, she makes you think about how aspects of family and regional history turn into local legends and songs, and what truths can be gleaned from them.

The Keeper of Songs was independently published by SnowGlobe Books in 2021; this was a personal purchase.  There are many angles to delve into for readalikes for this novel.  In addition to the details mentioned above, if you've enjoyed other recent music-infused historical fiction like Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six, Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, or Emma Brodie's Songs in Ursa Major, add this one to your list.  Fiona Mountain has written other historical novels previously, including Isabella; Lady of the Butterflies, about 17th-century scientist Eleanor Glanville; and Cavalier Queen, about Queen Henrietta Maria.


  1. Tori Whitaker4:49 AM

    How interesting to have the 1960s vibe and a tie to the fascinating Chatsworth estate! Sounds good!

  2. It made me want to visit Chatsworth. I hadn't realized the estate was so immense and included entire nearby villages.

    1. Anonymous3:41 PM

      Have you read the late Duchess's memoir WAIT FOR ME? It's wonderful

    2. Not yet, but I've heard good reports - glad to hear you agree. She's depicted in the novel as a very kind, generous person.

  3. Thank you for the review.