An old woman named Virginia returns to Salt Winds, a secluded house on the edge of an English marsh where she lived with adopted parents during World War II. Weaving between past and present, the novel follows Virginia's experience of a crime—and its haunting aftermath—that occurred when a German fighter plane crashed near Salt Winds.
In her debut, Brooks convincingly renders a child trying to make sense of the confusing and mysterious world of adults; Virginia is observant, but she doesn’t always get things right, and her efforts to control events can have unintended consequences ... A careful buildup of suspense will keep readers guessing and glued to the pages.
These mysteries are involving...although somewhat predictable. What’s missing, though, are those 75 years between Virginia’s coming of age and her actual old age. A few scattered references to career and travel don’t give a true sense of a life fully lived. As it is, young, naive Virginia’s story is more interesting than that of the bitter octogenarian who wavers between wanting revenge and making amends. Other characters are enigmatic rather than complicated, while smarmy, mustachioed Deering is a cartoon villain. What Brooks gets right is her evocation of time and place ... It reminds me of another haunting wartime tale belonging to the marsh. Surely, it’s no accident that Virginia chooses as her 12th birthday present a copy of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose.
Elizabeth Brooks’ grasp of the genre is evinced by the inclusion of integral elements. What distracts are periodic clunky dialogue, overly written passages verging on the twee, and a heavy reliance on adverbs, disrupting the flow of an otherwise very good story. The problem is the gothic cannot afford disruption; it’s crucial the reader sink in deeply, perhaps more so with this genre than most other. If a writer cannot sustain a grim and foreboding atmosphere, the spell is broken. Overall a good novel, The Orphan of the Salt Winds fails to deliver at a high level. Had it avoided a few sophomoric pitfalls, it could have been quite good indeed. As written, it just misses.