The Swamp of Death (nonfiction), Penguin Books (London, England), 2005.
When to Walk (novel), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2007.
Rebecca Gowers is a writer whose first book, The Swamp of Death, tells the true story of how an English immigration swindle became an internationally notorious murder mystery in Victorian Canada. Reginald Birchall is a well-bred young Englishman, or so he claims, who, in 1889, advertises in the London papers for a partner to buy shares in his Canadian horse farm. Douglas Pelly and Frederick Benwell, both from good families, respond to the advertisement. However, on the way to their new farm, the two end up in Niagara Falls, where Benwell mysteriously disappears. Later his body turns up near Woodstock, Ontario, with two bullets in the back of his head. Pelly thinks Birchall is behind the murder and is probably after him as well. Birchall, who turns out to be a conman, is eventually charged with the murder. The author, who is the great-granddaughter of Pelly, also goes into the details of Birchall's trial and how it was totally mismanaged by a less than competent trial judge, prosecuting attorney, and defense attorney.
"Drawing mainly on press reports and Pelly's accounts, she teases a fascinating story from the tangle of contradictory material concerning the drawn-out investigation, the conflicting jurisdictions, the trial and the brutally-bungled execution of Birchall," wrote Andrew Taylor in London's Independent. Booktrust Web site contributor James Smith commented: "In Gowers' hands, this story of deception comes alive as much for its evocation of the Victorians' thirst for intrigue and sensation as for the details of what proved, in the end, to be a rather grubby and inefficient swindle."
Gowers next book is the novel When to Walk, which received widespread praise from numerous reviewers. "For a first novel, Gowers' style of prose, imagery and structure is extremely skilled and, while her abstract and introspective heroine may not be every reader's ideal narrator, When to Walk is an inventive and intriguing debut," noted Jane Bradley in a review on the Bookmunch Web site. Lucy Ellmann wrote in the Guardian: "Gowers is a novelist who, to her credit, does nothing predictable."
When to Walk tells the story of Ramble, who narrates her own tale. "The first-person narration makes sure we never take our eyes off Ramble and her curious plight, made more curious by the wry emotionlessness of the telling," noted Ellmann in the Guardian. Ramble sets out to reinvent herself after her husband of three years ends their marriage as they are having lunch one day. Deciding to take stock of her life, she dissects it part by part as she deals with having no rent money, a pressure deadline for her work as a travel writer, and new neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, who may have involved her in a petty crime involving meter reading. In addition, Ramble suffers from a hearing problem and has arthritis that causes her difficulties in moving. In her narration, Ramble admits to her own shortcomings. She calls herself a hack travel writer and would rather read than meet new people. Now that her husband is gone, she is more isolated than ever. As she tries to figure out how her life has gotten to this point, her friendship with Mrs. Shaw offers Ramble some solace as Mrs. Shaw relates stories about her own husband's waywardness.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor called When to Walk "a sharp, literate roman a clef for readers who like their female empowerment free from sentimentality." Kylie Walker, writing in the New Statesman, commented that the author's "heartfelt novel is the perfect read for those bored with the current surfeit of cliché-ridden chick lit."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (London, England), February 24, 2007, Lucy Ellmann, "An Energetic Ramble," review of When to Walk.
Independent (London, England), September 1, 2004, Andrew Taylor, review of The Swamp of Death.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2007, review of When to Walk.
Library Journal, September 15, 2007, Barbara Love, review of When to Walk, p. 50.
Montreal Mirror, October 25-31, 2007, Juliet Waters, "Polar Opposites," review of When to Walk.
New Statesman, February 26, 2007, Kylie Walker, "Invisible Friends," review of When to Walk, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2007, review of When to Walk, p. 62.
Bookmunch,http://www.bookmunch.co.uk/ (April 7, 2008), Jane Bradley, review of When to Walk.
Canongate Web site,http://www.canongate.net/ (April 7, 2008), brief profile of author.
Culture Wars,http://www.culturewars.org.uk/ (May 16, 2007), Dolan Cummings, review of When to Walk.
Daisy's Book Journal,http://lazydaisy0413.blogspot.com/ (January 17, 2008), review of When to Walk.
FFWD,http://www.ffwdweekly.com/ (January 31, 2008), Kari Watson, "When to Walk away."
One-Minute Book Review,http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/ (October 2, 2007), Janice Harayda, review of When to Walk.
Pickle Me This,http://picklemethis.blogspot.com/ (September 24, 2007), review of When to Walk.