The Amber Maze, published in 2018, is a short book but packs a lot into the 160 or so pages.
Hugh Mullion and his family are holidaying in a charming Dorset cottage in the grounds of a large house known as The Hall.
Returning from an evening at the local pub, Hugh is dismayed to see a large winged armchair, that obviously doesn’t belong, squeezed into the living room. Trying it out, however, he did find it quite comfortable. Jumping up to search for his ringing mobile, several coins fell out of his pocket. Feeling for his lost coins down the side of the cushion after finishing the call he found none, only a small key attached to half a luggage label. Intrigued, he went to see if Mrs Butterfield, the owner of The Hall, knew anything about it.
“Can’t help, I’m afraid. I’ve not had the chair long. That’s why I was trying it out. It’ll need reupholstering, wherever it ends up.” She poured the coffee and pushed a jug of milk towards him. “I bought it in the sale at Nigel Gosling’s antiques shop in Okeminster. You could try him if you want to find out more. Obviously, he’d have had no idea the key was there when he sold the chair to me but he should at least know where it came from.”
Nigel Gosling is out when Hugh visits the shop, but he learns two wing chairs and a painting were delivered to Mrs Butterfield. Hugh finds the other chair, along with the painting, in an outbuilding belonging to The Hall. His wife is instrumental in finding the other half of the label. So now they have a name. On their return home to London Hugh continues his search which leads him to Rachel Broadbent who had given the painting to her mother, Hester Badingham.
A good number of characters are introduced as Hugh continues to follow the trail of clues, which was a little confusing initially, but they all have information to offer. Hugh’s search centres around Lionel Pybus, a troubled artist whose work wasn’t appreciated during his lifetime, and the sinister Amber Maze that cast its shadow across the rest his life. We’re given a fascinating insight into Lionel’s life, via recollections from people who knew him and information gathered, and the results of the choices he made, particularly with reference to the Amber Maze.
Hugh’s seeming obsession with the mystery is alleviated somewhat by his wife and children but the lure of following the clues and his drive to find answers keeps his momentum going, taking him on an intriguing journey into the past.
With a well thought through plot, the pace is moderate and the narrative interesting, unravelling slowly and peppered with several colourful, if not always pleasant, characters.
While staying in a Dorset cottage, Hugh Mullion finds a mysterious key down the side of an antique chair.No one can say how long the key has been there or what it opens.
Hugh’s search for answers will unlock the secrets of the troubled life of a talented artist, destined to be hailed a neglected genius fifty years too late.And no secret is darker than that of The Amber Maze, from whose malign influence he never escaped.
The trail takes Hugh from Edwardian Oxfordshire to 1960s Camden Town, where the ghosts of the past are finally laid to rest.
Delicately crafted noir fiction at its best.