After enjoying and reviewing the biography ‘Charlotte Brontë’s Thunder’ by Michele Carter, I found her latest fiction entitled ‘The Brontë Code’ equally entertaining. ‘The Brontë Code’ acts as an excellent introduction to the intricate code elaborated on in the non-fiction, and presents biographical background to enhance our understanding of the famous nineteenth-century Brontë family.

In a mystery that echoes elements of ‘The DaVinci Code’, Carter’s version of murder, mayhem, and secret societies involves Freemasons, anagrams, and ancient rituals buried deep within the Brontë novels.

When the story opens in the present-day, Lucy Owens, a struggling journalist from San Francisco, has made her way to Haworth, in the north of England, to visit the Brontë museum and to immerse herself in the local scenery. While in the village, Lucy’s absorption of Brontëana lends a slight dissonance to her musings when she learns she shares several odd, life coincidences with her favorite Brontë sister, Charlotte. Nonetheless, she roams the moors to retrace the steps of her literary muse with the hope that she will connect with her own talent as a novelist.

Her adventure begins during an afternoon ramble among the heather and harebells. Haunting cries and the image of a man (Heathcliff?) draw her to an abandoned farmhouse where she discovers a body. The dead man is Danny Cowan, and his ancestry links back several generations to the 1840s when the Brontë fictions were first published.

Lucy’s curiosity drives her to investigate the murder, which leads her directly to ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. Her attraction to Charlotte and the strange similarities in their lives create a further pull beyond simple curiosity. The undercurrent of a mysterious force, while frightening, enables Lucy to crack a secret code that’s been hidden in plain view for over one hundred and sixty years. Is Charlotte guiding her to even deeper secrets?

A murder mystery is not complete without the catalogue of possible suspects. In ‘The Brontë Code’, several characters could be implicated in the dastardly deed. The villagers prefer to keep their secrets to themselves, and our woman sleuth must break through their veneer of civility to find a killer. She discovers a companion-in-arms in Sarah Chadwick, a local whose belief in a Brontë conspiracy theory allows the village folk to dismiss her as an odd duck, but Lucy finds her knowledge of history and Freemasonry invaluable.

An additional point of interest is whether a romance is brewing between a long-time resident and Lucy. The only problem is, however, that her love interest may be the man who killed Danny Cowan.

At approximately 300 pages, ‘The Brontë Code’ is the perfect read over a summer weekend. The mystery and intrigue kept me flipping to the next chapter, and the charmingly quirky characters provide occasional comic relief. The novel is a colorful mix of past exploits intertwining with contemporary events, and presents the reader with a fascinating lead-in to the more scholarly ‘Charlotte Brontë’s Thunder’. Your level of enjoyment is not predicated on your level of knowledge of Brontë lore or literature: both books assume you know nothing, but by the end you will know a great deal.

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