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The Crimson Rooms

(Evelyn Gifford #1)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,435 ratings  ·  242 reviews
In the spirit of Sarah Waters and Geraldine Brooks, a dramatic mystery about love, secrets, and discovery in post-World War I London.

Still haunted by the death of her only brother, James, in the Great War, Evelyn Gifford is completely unprepared when a young nurse and her six-year-old son appear on the Giffords' doorstep one night. The child, the nurse claims, is James'
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published February 18th 2010 by Putnam Adult (first published 2009)
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Lianne There is a reference to a crimson room, in the letter that James wrote to Evelyn the night before he died. (page 306 in my copy).

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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  1,435 ratings  ·  242 reviews

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May 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evelyn Gifford (30) ~ the narrator ~ is a young woman who is living in the past, present and future.

The Past - The year is 1924 and Evelyn, who is a trainee solicitor, lives a lonely, unhappy life with her mother, grandmother and elderly aunt Prudence in a big rambling decaying house, still mourning the death of her brother, James, killed in WWII six years earlier. Both her mother and Prudence can't understand why she wants to be a solicitor, they think it's totally unsuitable for a young woman.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I recently read and loved 'The Alchemist's Daughter' by Katherine McMahon and was eager to see if her other novels were as good. This one certainly was and I think I may have found a new favorite author. One of the things I liked about 'The Alchemist's Daughter' was the strong female protagonist that McMahon created and while their characters are completely different the strong female protagonist in this story is equally compelling.

Evelyn Gifford is a thirty year old, Cambridge educated, lawyer
Linda C
May 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Yet another book that started out strong, and then tapered off into a mess of mediocrity. Very disappointing. While Katherin McMahon is clearly a gifted writer, her characters were flat and lifeless. The heroine, Evelyn, was as repressed at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Although I was initially cheering for Evelyn to break free of her obnoxious relatives and throw off the mantle of dutiful daughter, she was unable to do so. I kept waiting for her to cut her hair and even that ...more
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Though most of the action in “The Crimson Room” takes place in the mid twenties the real impetus comes from World War I. That war shaped the characters; warped them, saddened, bent or strengthened them. When her brother James is killed in the war Evelyn’s family allows her to use the money set aside for James’ education. She becomes one of the first female lawyers. Meredith, a young woman who’d met James while nursing near the front, appears on the family doorstep with a young boy who looks inex ...more
Marguerite Kaye
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
My second read of this book, and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. McMahon does a brilliant job with Evelyn, a middle-class young woman with a burning desire to follow her father into the law, but who has no chance before WWI because that's her beloved brother's destiny. Her beloved brother is killed and Evelyn gets her chance - but at such a cost. Trying her best to live in both worlds, that of the stuffy house of women in mourning, and that of the London courts who think women are a ...more
May 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lydia Presley
If I had to sum up my feelings toward this book in one word, that word would be "apathetic".

The premise sounded good. Post-WWI era in London, one of the first female lawyers struggling to make her mark, the murder of a newly wed young woman, the accused her new husband. Family drama, court drama and love drama all wrapped up in one novel.

It wasn't that the writing was bad, or that the story was necessarily bad (I was most interested in the mystery part of it all), it was just that I was so incre
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's obviously something about pioneer women that gets under McMahon's skin. In The Rose of Sebastopol it was Florence Nightingale and the first female nurses. In this its the first female lawyers. Again an area I know nothing about and was delighted to learn.
Its also about taking on an independent role, usually the man's role, and using individual character to succeed against the odds, the law, the establishment.
It also deals with real human emotions - grief, guilt, love, fear - in a way th
Sophie Donnelly
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
This story pulled me in with it interesting plot and good reviews.

Weather it is because of my lack of interest for period set books or the many many characters. I found this book hard to fall in to and almost a chore to read. Thought the storylines where great in concept I just feel like most of the book felt dragged out into not much of and ending.

Despite all ive said of you are intrigued by and simply writen 1920s drama this could be your book.

Just not for me.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Maura Heaphy Dutton
Romantic fiction is Not My Thing. And, superficially, this novel pressed all of my negative buttons: soft-focus cover art. Swooning blurbs. Seal of approval from the Richard and Judy Book club. (It is literally a little gold seal. For my American Friends: Richard and Judy are the married co-hosts of a British morning TV show. Now you understand my qualms.) But ... duty calls, this was this month's selection for our village book group.

And how very, very, wrong I was. This is a genuine Good Read:
Alisha Marie
I won this book from the First Reads program here on Goodreads and it really sounded promising. But I've been having terrible luck with historical fiction recently and unfortunately, The Crimson Rooms has fallen into that stigma.

First, let me say that I love historical fiction books. They usually allow me to be immersed in a time period that I would never have been a part of and they have the added element of teaching me something that I didn't previously know. But the thing with The Crimson Roo
Leah Murphy
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it
I received this in a pre-release giveaway from GP Putnam's, and I am so glad that I did!

The introduction to this story was very quick and abrupt; a major life event happening to the characters before we even knew their names. This bothered me at first, but as I got further into the story it came around and I don't think it would have worked any other way.

This story follows Evelyn, one of the first female lawyers in London, post-WWI. While dealing with the loss of her brother to war, her entire f
Catherine Siemann
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Catherine by: Bibliophile
I'm very interested in the entry of women into the professions in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the legal profession, so when I read Bibliophile's review of The Crimson Rooms, I put it on my must-read list. Main character Evelyn Gifford is an articled clerk, making her way into the legal profession in the post-WWI world. Although she's the only one bringing any income into her now all-female family, rather than being appreciated, she faces disapproval for her defiance of traditional ...more
"The Crimson Rooms" is a tragedy-style historical set in 1924 in England. It also contained a mystery and a romance. The characters were complex. Historical and setting details were expertly woven into the story and brought the story alive in my imagination.

However, it's a depressing story. Evelyn's family is stuck in their grief. Her two main legal cases can't really have "happy endings" even if won. And, due to the high post-war female-to-male ratio and her low self-image, Evelyn's desperate t
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Crimson Rooms' by Katherine McMahon. The author wrote in a style that emulated the period in which it was set (1924) so it took a while for me to get into it. But I loved the idea of a protagonist being a young woman lawyer at a time when women were not welcome to practise and the few who had the courage and ambition to challenge the status quo were openly criticised and ostracised. I appreciated that each character had their good points and flaws, in particular Evelyn ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Evelyn has never stopped mourning the death of her only brother, James. When a nurse shows up on her doorstep stating that the child was James's, Evelyn is more then caught off guard. The nurse says that they need somewhere to stay and Evelyn opens her home to the two strangers.

Evelyn is an attorney who happens upon a case that one of her co-workers didn't feel was important. It turns out that this case hits close to home. What really happened to the brother she loved?

Katharine is a natural! I r
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantastic
Such an enjoyable novel, quietly suspenseful and as full of pent-up emotion as hoydenish Americans imagine early 20th century British ladies to be. How many people aren't what they seem? How many ways are there to sacrifice oneself for something--or for nothing? It's a multi-layered story of the struggles between people's higher and lower selves, the classes, and the sexes in the aftermath of the first World War. The most enjoyable novel I've read all year, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enj ...more
Janet Schneider
May 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Maisie Dobbs and Ian Rutledge fans
What I loved about this book: setting (London 1924); the heroine's unusual-for-the-time career and her efforts to practice as an attorney; authentic period details in fashion, socio-economic concerns, and post-war sensibilities. I was transfixed by and transported to a time and place that is not much written about, where it was unusual for a woman to dine alone in a tea-room, not to mention smoke a cigarette. The relationships and actions of the characters seemed believable in context.

Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really good--surprised me. Set in England a few years after the end of WWI, it is told by Evelyn, a woman grieving for her brother, lost in the war, and for her own life, shattered like so many others at the time. One of the first female lawyers, she struggles with two cases in particular, a murder, and a woman threatened with losing her children. Very intelligently and movingly told, and I'm really hoping McMahon decides to write a follow-up at some point.

ETA: just visited her FB page, and she
Apr 02, 2011 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I resorted to a Random Number Generator to pick what to read next. And it pulled out this books number.

The blurb sounded pretty promising, but I soon as I started it, alarm bells started ringing. I couldn't connect to Evelyn, the protaganist; Meredith was portrayed as manipulative & horrible in a totally stereotypical way...I think this tried to be a Sarah Waters novel...but didn't quite manage it.

Who knows, it might suddenly all click into place, but 150 pages in and I just cannot go on.
Connie Jensen
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Superb book- great combination of an intriguing and at times harrowing personal story, with a compelling element of "whodunnit" The insight into the lives and motivations of the brave and intelligent female pioneers of the period is invaluable for me as I embark on writing a book about a head teacher belonging to this generation.
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
nothing special - had to make myself keep reading.
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Didn't do much for me I'm afraid...a bit slow to start...and never warned to any of the characters...our felt anything about them...even mild dislike might have sparked an interest.

Idril Celebrindal
Aug 01, 2014 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this while I was reading it but thought the ending was rather ridiculously overwrought.
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
(This review first appeared on my website blog at

Set in 1924, THE CRIMSON ROOMS is very much concerned with the aftermath of the First World War, with the distinction of featuring a young female lawyer – one of the first of her kind – as its viewpoint character. Evelyn Gifford, at thirty, shares the view of many women of her generation that she is unlikely to marry, and looks to her work for a sense of purpose and the chance to bring about change. She is assistant at the
Jan 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, this was one of those books that leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions but with no desire to get the answers.

The first chapter started out strong but the rest of the book stretched across hundreds of pages that left me quite bored. I doubt I would have finished it, or even picked it up, if I didn’t have to read it for school.
Only around page 200 did I take any interest in the story and hundred pages later did it actually become mildly interesting. At page 400, with only fifty pag
Katharine McMahon's riveting period piece is both a mystery and a romance. It is the story of 30-year-old Evelyn Gifford, one of the few female attorneys in 1920s London. Not only is Evelyn struggling in her career because of her gender, but she is floundering in her personal life, due to the grief over the death of her beloved brother James in the Great War, the bad financial decisions her father made before he died, and the lack of a husband or lover. She lives a stolid life with an assortment ...more
Molly Tierney
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm jealous of anyone who hasn't read this book yet. You have so much to look forward to.
After reading The Alchemist's Daughter, I looked for more books by this author and fortunately still have some more to read.
Things I liked about this book: historical fiction, character development, the main character being an evolving young woman discovering her power and a man's world and in particular a man's profession, the law, and the 1920s. I'm so taken by the story and the writer's ability to portra
Sally Anfilogoff
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent fast read with twists and turns and a slightly ( to me) surprising ending. Set in the 1920s the main character is a young woman attempting to work as an articled clerk in a time of mistrust and discrimination. Although female solicitors were now allowed, there were just a handful and the character is based on a real life woman who did this. It's a time soon after the end of WW1 when the loss of life ( and men) had been huge and Britain was till reeling from the impact of the war. I lik ...more
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 2 Mar 03, 2015 09:45AM  

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Katharine McMahon is the author of 10 novels, including the bestselling The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy pick for 2007. The Crimson Rooms and The Alchemist's Daughter.

Her latest book, The Hour of Separation, is our in paperback on 22nd August.

Her fiction is based on the lives of extraordinary women. She loves to explore how women in the past - but with a contemporary slant. T

Other books in the series

Evelyn Gifford (2 books)
  • The Woman in the Picture (Evelyn Gifford #2)

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