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The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  3,806 Ratings  ·  709 Reviews
A castle filled with intrigue, a plotting duchess and a mysterious death in Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms.

At 6 am on 21 April 1940 John the 9th Duke of Rutland, and one of Britain's wealthiest men, ended his days, virtually alone, lying on a makeshift bed in a dank cramped suite of rooms in the servants' quarters of his own home, Belvoir Castle, in Leicestershire.

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Hardcover, 450 pages
Published November 1st 2012 by Viking
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Melanie I would recommend Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Lady Almina…moreI would recommend Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carneron. (less)

Community Reviews

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DROPPING OUT
As another reader wrote, "A lot of fuss over nothing." It is, indeed, a well-researched family history, but while the Duke of Rutland was an important figure in English society, he was a vain and shallow man, married to a vain, petty, and scheming harridan, and together they ruined the life of their son.

The first half of the book went quickly, and a sense "mystery" was fueled by mysterious gaps in the family archives. But the last quarter was, I found, sheer slogging as an unearthed cache of a l
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Diane
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a saying: "More money, more problems." After reading this book, I think there should be an addendum for nobility: "More titles, more drama."

"The Secret Rooms" is the story of the 9th Duke of Rutland, John Henry Montagu Manners, and the family secrets he tried to hide. Before John died of pneumonia in April 1940, he locked himself into his archive rooms at Belvoir Castle and would not come out, working ceaselessly on a mysterious project, even against his doctor's orders to rest. After
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Diane S ☔
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
3.5 When Catherine Bailey goes to Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, it was with the intention of writing a book about the impact of World War I, on the Duke of Rutland's estate. Let into rooms that had been closed, the 9th Duke having died in them, she finds a treasure trove of letters and other historical documents, she also finds a mystery. Certain time frames have had all letters and documents from all members of the family excised. The mystery of why is too much to ignore and so the focus of ...more
Maya Panika
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely corking tale, better by far than most novels I’ve read recently. I don’t think I’ve ever read a non-fic book with so many cliff-hangers.
My one and only bug bear (and it is but a small gripe) is with the chapters on the Great War where there is, to my mind, a lot of superfluous detail about the war. Obviously some historical background is necessary, to put the events of John’s life into context. I don’t think we needed quite so much as we got. I can’t help but feel that Catherine B
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Sdscattergood
Feb 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
The author drags you along for over 600 pages, promising revelations, secrets revealed, mind boggling suspense. What you get is a dry history full of a largely unsympathetic main character, his aggravating and shrilly selfish mother, and the rest of his detestable family. One of the main "secrets" is never actually even explained, but constantly brought up throughout the book. Excellent reading fodder if you are trapped on a plane with nothing else to do for about eight hours.
Krista
I am not giving this book any stars because as much as I tried to get into this book each page was a chore to read. Labeled a gothic mystery it should have been labeled a informational documentary. I read the first 45 percent or a little more of this book. I did find the history good, author Catherine Bailey really did her research, the story was interesting me being a history buff. However it read so boring as just informational. The pictures were nice that were in the book. I only wish I had e ...more
Erin
Jan 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

I've been bouncing around thoughts on Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms for a couple of weeks now, vainly trying to convince myself that I don't know what I want to say when in reality I've just been putting off a review I wasn't in the mood to write. Something about wanting to like a book more than I did, having to rectify deflated expectations against the reality of experience, call me crazy but it just doesn't insight m
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Laura
Page 28:
Whatever it was that kept the Duke closeted in his secret rooms in the last hours of his life haunted his family too. Shortly after he died, his son, Charles, the 10th Duke of Rutland, closed them. In 1999, almost sixty years later, they were finally opened to outsiders. Today, only a handful of people have been inside them.

Page 58:
Had I stumbled across something? Was there a link between the missing war letters and whatever it was the family had wanted to hide?

Page 59:
Briefly, I explain
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Anne
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Catherine Bailey visited Belvoir Castle with the intention of writing about the part played by the Rutland family and the workers from the estate during the First World War. When she started to do her research she stumbled upon a mystery that had been hidden for many years, once she started to delve, she came across a story that has now become the focus of this book - a completely different book to that which she had planned, but one that is incredibly detailed and often reads like a fiction nov ...more
Courtney
Jan 17, 2014 rated it liked it
This book bills itself as more riveting than it is. It does have a mystery- three actually- but is limited by the destroyed historical record, made all the more intriguing because it was done by John, the protagonist. Bailey is great at creating tension and suspense, but the pay off is extended and not complete enough. I would recommend reading this book if you know you can finish it in a short period of time; I read it in a week and that pace was even agonizing for the reveal.

Slight spoilers b
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Ghost of the Library
If I didn't know this was true I would have given sincere congratulations to the author for a very well balanced and inspired tale worthy of a movie adaptation...this reads like a Brideshead Revisited or an Agatha Christie mistery - even if none of the deaths happen on purpose.
The Secret Rooms started, as the author notes, with a very different purpose/topic in mind - to investigate the background of the many that fought and died in WW1, more specifically the men belonging to the estates of the
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Teresa
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I don't usually read a lot of non-fiction but something about this story really drew me in and, to use that well-worn cliche, "you couldn't make it up". From a daunting mountain of documents, Catherine Bailey has succeeded in excavating an intriguing and involving true story of one man's life - a very sad story emerges as she fills in the gaps in the life story of John Manners, the 9th Duke of Rutland.

This is a very detailed and extremely well researched account which highlights the immense powe
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Kaethe
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
After years of reading fictional gothic horrors, it's kind of a weird delight to discover that there are even stranger things going on in real life. As mentioned in my review of Black Diamonds, I loved it so much I immediately had to get a hold of this, which was her first book.

Baily is an historian who is granted access to the Duke of Rutland's private archive. She's going through these beautifully stored and catalogued collections of letters (so many letters), and there are three gaps. The res
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Pink
Mar 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This started out so well and with such promise...."a castle filled with intrigue, a plotting duchess and a mysterious death"

I was hooked from the first page. What was the big mystery? I loved finding out as Catherine Bailey picked away at clues, painstakingly researching this very well written book. Then about halfway through I began to suspect that we'd never really learn the truth. There were too many gaps in the letters, too much of a cover up of events long past. The little facts that were g
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Damaskcat
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The ninth Duke of Rutland died in 1940 in a suite of rooms which was then sealed by his son. For many years no one was allowed in the rooms. Catherine Bailey, the author of this fascinating book, was allowed access to them and to Belvoir Castle archives so that she could find out how World War I had affected the ordinary people of the area.

Before long she realised there was another mystery she needed to investigate and write about. Why had the ninth Duke spent the last years of his life closeted
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Sarah
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am big fan of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the lives of the aristocracy in late 19th Century and early 20th century Britain. Their traditions and way of life were quickly becoming unsustainable and irrelevant and their stories make great reading with many opportunities for humor. But, as much as I love the works of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, it is the non-fiction books that I really pull me in, and The Secret Room is one of the best.
Bailey sets out to write a book about the
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Chris
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-english
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Penny
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and it confirms by belief that truth is always far, far stranger than fiction.
I loved Catherine Bailey's earlier book Black Diamonds so had high hopes for The Secret Rooms and I wasn't disappointed.
Hard to review it without giving away some of the secrets she discovers during her research. Recommended.
Laura
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Overall pretty interesting but the big family secrets that are supposed to be so mysterious are much ado about nothing really.
Amy
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
WOW! This is one of my favorite types of books. I love stories that turn research into an adventure. It was one of the things I liked about "Possession" by A.S. Byatt. The whole time I was reading Possession, I kept wishing it was non-fiction. "The Secret Rooms" is my non-fiction research adventure.

I saw this book in Barnes and Noble. Another browser had left it in the Mystery section, so when I started looking it up, it took me a while to really clarify that it was non-fiction. I still wasn't
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Cindy Knoke
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How this author accomplished this tour de force tome is beyond me. The prodigous and brilliant research that went into this book is astounding. Tiny leads in family archives are followed up in national archives dating from pre to post WWI, to create a painstakingly accurate non-fiction read. As if her skills as a researcher were not enough, the author couples this with brilliant writing, creating a book that will keep you awake at night with suspense and fascination. It reads like an excellently ...more
Eva
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The world of the British upper ten thousand before the Great War seems so alien, so bizarre nowadays: the privileges they had! the houses! the wealth! the intrigues!
But that's what made their world so fascinating- a world that doesn't exist anymore even though it is relatively recent history.
Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret takes us right into the stately Belvoir Castle, residence of the Duke of Rutland. Not only int
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Kirstin Mckee
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such an amazing story. All true. After the Duke of Rutland dies his son locks his rooms behind him never to be opened. And when they are, what a story they tell! My family were totally neglected as I rushed to reach the end of this book.
Sheila
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting story of a secret deeply hidden but dug up by the author's determination to find what a duke spent his last days burying in the past. Bailey starts researching the annals of Belvoir, home of the Dukes of Rutland, to write a totally different story about the soldiers of WWI. Instead she finds an incredibly rich troves of letters and diaries in a room kept sealed up for 20 years. Correspondence from three very distinct periods is missing, and it's tally-ho, Bailey is on the hunt.

F
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Nikki Morton
The first half of this book was very intriguing. The mystery surrounding the family's historical documents and the WWI setting was interesting, especially the bits of John's war diary.
But the second half began to drag quite a bit...the back and forth of the letters was a little slow, especially since the manipulation and reasons for it were pretty evident.
Still glad I picked this one up overall, though.
Gina Basham
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I didn't want to read this, I wanted to absorb it through osmosis. Completely and utterly fascinating. I know the references to Downton Abbey are overused to describe this book, but they do apply.

Reading about that period of time is fascinating and hearing it described through letters, documentations and household accounts made it very real. The pomp and circumstance seems so foreign today and the lavish lifestyle completely alien. The distractions and machinations going on behind the scenes dur
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Caitlin
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
I wanted to like The Secret Rooms a lot more than I did. The promise of a gothic mystery and scandalous tales of the upper crust spurred me on, but I just didn't care all that much about the Duke and I didn't find the story very interesting because he wasn't all that interesting to me. I wanted more of the glamour and dazzle of his sister, Lady Diana Cooper, and found instead a sad man locked up in a room trying to make himself and his life go away.

It's difficult to review this without spoilers
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Lynn Spencer
Oct 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
3.5 stars This book is an interesting history, but probably not for everyone. The author starts off detailing her journey to Belvoir Castle to review WWI-era documents for a project. However, she finds herself on another path entirely once she learns that the rooms where she works were at one point sealed off by a previous duke. In going through documents, she also figures out that said duke erased three distinct periods in his life from the archival record. And of course Catherine Bailey wonder ...more
K.J. Charles
Hmph. This is a thrilling premise but the mystery doesn't live up to the billing. Three missing periods in the obsessively catalogued family letters, carefully excised. Two we never really find out about, one we learn the secret and it is sordid and contemptible but not earthshattering. Fundamentally, this book tells us that the British upper classes contained many horrifyingly selfish, entitled, horrible people, and I already knew that.

It's an intriguing account of historical research, but to
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Lcitera
My only criticism and lack of a four star review would be the minutiae that could have benefitted from an editor's red pen. Keeping in mind this book is history, not historical fiction, that fault finding might be unwarranted. The story revolves around a highly dysfunctional English family, their home Belvoir Castle, World War I, and the machinations of a cruel and manipulative matriarch. Worth the read if you are an Anglophile.
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“The closure of the rooms and the servants’ stories are pieces in the puzzle. Now it is necessary to step back to the true beginning of this story – the moment when I first entered these rooms, before I even knew they concealed a mystery.” 2 likes
“Writing to her from America, her best friend remarked, ‘I’ve stopped reading fiction, I just read about you.” 1 likes
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