The Ropemaker’s Daughter, by Virginia Smith

Originally written for Gay.com UK

We’ve all told little white lies on a first date. First impressions matter, we’re always being told, so it pays to come across as interesting as possible. A little hint of thrill in one’s job here, a dark secret in a slightly-murky-but-not-threateningly-so past there. After all, if the relationship doesn’t go anywhere it’s not going to matter, and if it does, well, your new partner will look over such indiscretions. Right?

Wrong — at least, for the heroine of The Ropemaker’s Daughter, an amazing first novel by Virginia Smith. Rebecca is a habitual liar, concocting elaborate past histories with which to enthral men, safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to get to know her and so will never find out the truth — that she’s little more than a Southampton librarian. This is all well and fine, until she meets someone who’s an even better liar than she is. He claims he’s Adam, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend who she dumped a year earlier, but she knows differently for two reasons. Firstly, he looks nothing like her ex — but more significantly, the real Adam had thrown himself off a cliff ten months earlier.

Rebecca enlists the help of Paige, a woman who also knows the fake ‘Adam’, to find out just who he is and why he’s tormenting her by posing as her late ex. As they do so, Rebecca finds out more about herself – including an increasing attraction to Paige.

Lovers of Barbara Vine will adore Smith’s plotting. The story propels itself along, with no twist ever feeling forced or unnatural. While the same can’t necessarily be said of some of the characters. Paige’s backstory, for example, is peppered with unusual and unbelievable cardboard cutouts. These, however, don’t detract from the sense of dramatic urgency.

The ending possibly suffers from being a little easy to guess, but with all great mystery novels it’s how you get there that matters, and ‘The Ropemaker’s Daughter’ takes you on a fantastic ride.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.