Dr. Catherine (Cate) Kensie teaches history at Aberdeen College, a small liberal arts college in the American Midwest. She loves teaching and her subject, but her department is tiny and declining. She’s been promised a tenure-track position, but the promise is getting old, and she knows it’s not worth much if anything. Her department chair has dangled the promise to keep her accepting the times and courses no other professors want. She has little extracurricular life, except for much-loved dog, Riley. And she has no family, being an only child of parents who died in an automobile accident.
At home, she finds a telephone message. The voice refers to a letter she’s never received. Someone named William Smythe, a London attorney, is arriving that evening. He refers to the letter he’d sent, and says he has a fast turnaround and must return to Britain early the next day. When Smythe arrives, to obtain a DNA sample, she learns that she may be the only heir to a title and a castle in Scotland. Cate is stunned; she has no knowledge of family in Scotland or anywhere else.
Two weeks later, she hears the results of the DNA test. She’s the heir, and she is now a countess. With her job at a dead-end, she decides she’s going to Scotland. She learns of a few odd requirements; the now-deceased previous countess is requiring she wear a watch on a chain around her neck at all times. But that seems a relatively minor obligation. And it’s off to Britain, first to London and then to Scotland.
And Dunhaven is indeed a castle, replete with battlements and legends and stories. Cate decides to use the castle’s large library and the village library and archives to figure out her connection to the MacKensie family, perhaps to write a book about the family history. And in the meantime, there are those strange people who keep showing up in period dress, the people who seem as real as Cate herself.
The Secret of Dunhaven Castle by Nellie Steele is the story of Cate Kensie discovering who her family is and was and the secret that’s harbored by the castle. It’s a mystery with a dash of science fiction and even a hint of romance (one suspects Cate’s estate manager might become something more than an employee). It’s written almost like the narrative in a journal, with a precise accounting of what happens each day over a several-week period.
Nellie Steele is the pen name for the Melissa Sovak, who lives with her family in Pittsburgh and teaches statistics at a local university. She’s also written The Murder at Dunhaven Castle, the second in the Cate Kensie series, and two novels on the Shadow Slayer Series, Shadows of the Past and Stolen Portrait, Stolen Soul.
If you like a story of a castle in Scotland, an unexpected American heiress, and odd things happening (and I do), The Secret of Dunhaven Castle is a great and almost-addictive read.