The Bequest by Joanna Margaret Book Review Read it later

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Contributor Cindy J

Mystery, travel, and history are three subjects that always pique my interest when searching for my next book. When The Bequest appeared on my radar, I knew it would be an ideal book for me because it combined all three elements. This debut novel is a contemporary mystery that digs deep into the chronicles of a family’s bloodline and their part in changing history. It also describes the lengths some will go to for power and greed. 

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Isabel Henley is ready for a fresh start after a shattering break up with a colleague in Boston. When she arrives at St. Stephens on the North Sea in Scotland for her study abroad program, she learns that her PhD advisor, a feminist history professor named Madeline Grangier, has suffered a fatal fall while hiking. Isabel feels unsettled being so far from home, and now under the guidance of an aloof male advisor. To make matters worse, Isabel discovers that another student’s thesis will soon be published on the same topic as her dissertation focus. 

Like Isabel, Rose Brewster is also pursuing her PhD at St. Stephens in the history department. The two women knew each other as undergrad classmates in Boston, and are happy to reconnect. Rose is a high energy and fun-loving scholar who shows Isabel around the school and treats her to a girls’ weekend in Edinburgh. Though working on different thesis topics, the women discover parallels in their research.

Rose shares a secret with Isabel that later haunts her when Rose disappears. While Isabel worries about her friend, a suicide note appears on her new advisor’s door. Rose wonders if the note is somehow related to the death of her former adviser. Weeks after Rose disappears, Isabel receives a cryptic message stating that Rose is alive, but will be killed unless Isabel completes Rose’s dissertation research. Isabel must convince her advisor to allow her to resume Rose’s work without divulging that Rose is alive. If Isabel is unsuccessful in completing the project, both women will die.

Isabel unearths new information about the Falcone family in her research that leads her to Genoa, Italy. Isabel realizes that she is in danger when she is met with resistance upon arriving at the Falcone Palazzo. Frustrated, she enters a nearby bar where she meets a man who can help her.  

Each new discovery feels as if everyone is keeping a secret from Isabel and she doesn’t know who to trust.

The Bequest by Joanna Margaret

Genre: Fiction/ Historical Mystery

Isabel Henry is more than ready to start her study abroad program in Scotland. Upon arriving, she discovers that her professor has died. Not only that, but one of her peers is about to publish a book on the same subject as Isabel’s dissertation. Isabel soon finds herself entangled in a life-or-death mystery that will take her across Europe. 

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Cindy with The Bequest
Contributor Cindy with The Bequest!

The Bequest takes the reader on a fascinating tour of historical places throughout Europe. From the gloomy coastal cliffs of Scotland, to the medieval buildings of Italy, the atmospheric details are rich. As a reader, I felt the chilly darkness of old Europe. I appreciate the author’s care of detail with the time period represented, and for putting forth a strong female main character who portrays a good sense of judgment. The storyline has some notable twists throughout, some predictable. The pacing in the beginning and at the end flowed well, but the middle was much slower due to all of the historical information. 

My rating of this book is three-and-a-half stars. History intrigues me, so I enjoyed this storyline and settings. At times, the historical references from the 1600s made it feel like I was reading a guide book from a museum. As the mystery unfolded, I would have preferred to read more about the characters involved in the disappearance of Rose and the search for the mysterious missing emerald.

This book is ideal for mystery readers who want to delve into detailed medieval history. As a casual reader, I found the excess information informative, but also distracting from the primary storyline and characters. 

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Chandler M with the Bequest
Contributor Chandler M. with The Bequest!

Chandler M.

The Bequest was my first book by Joanna Margaret. I enjoyed the twists and turns in this novel, as well as the atmosphere.. It is written so well that you could feel the cloudy Scottish air and picture the castles and dust-covered documents being described. I also liked the twists revealed at the end. 

However, I struggled to feel a connection to the characters, as well as the relationship between them. Many of the characters, like Catrina, Bertie, and Sean, did not have an introduction or a backstory. They were just thrown into the story and pop in and out throughout the book. While the author really tried to be thorough when writing about the history of the emerald, I kept getting lost in all of the details. I was so focused on trying to remember all of the details that I lost sight of the mystery. Suddenly, Isabel would get a phone call from Rose, her missing friend, and I would remember that it was supposed to be a mystery. The details always went fast, but the story felt so slow. 

Rose and Williams’ romance was also very dry. I did not feel the connection between them, and then all of a sudden, they were telling each other they loved them. While they did know each other for months, it felt more like “insta-love” that was rushed. 

While this was a 2.5 read for me, If you are a history buff, you should check out this book!

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