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The Crimson Rooms (Evelyn Gifford #1)

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  1,295 Ratings  ·  230 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, 384 pages
Published February 18th 2010 by Putnam Adult (first published 2009)
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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
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
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
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
Goddess Of Blah

When you visit a bookshop and see the front end stands littered with fluffy pink books that revolve around the deary existence of a shopaholic, an imbecile involve with the undead, or pervy billionaires out there to dominate you (and of course the height of every woman's ambition is the be the chosen prize of the fattest meal ticket - regardless that you co
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Marguerite Kaye
Nov 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Loved this! As a lawyer who never practiced, I was appalled at the way women lawyers were treated in the 1920s in the UK, though not really surprised (was astonished too, that not once in the years I studied law did the history of lawyers form any part of the curriculum). The key theme in this book was what happens to those who survive after a major war/catastrophe. Evelyn, the main protagonist, has lost a beloved brother, and aside from the continuing tragic effect of his death on her family, s ...more
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
"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
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
Jill Robertson
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
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
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.

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
Marguerite Kaye
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
Another book that came to me via my mum and a friend of hers, and I confess, not a book I might have picked up otherwise, so I am grateful to said friend as I really enjoyed it. A heroine I could really root for; great historical detail and examination of various issues (not least women finding a place for themselves outside the home, and the wider impact of the war); a nice dose of romance; and a murder mystery that knitted together the various strands in the story together really well into a v ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Several years after the end of WWI the impact of the war can still be seen. This is seen in the changing, but slow to be accepted, role of women and the recovery from the loss of so many young men. The book shows how even the best can be corrupted by the demands of war. On the negative side, I have never run into so many bemused individuals and I don't know why, given what happened during the war, Meredith would want to live with James's family.
Allison Olson
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So happy to have found this author. Strong and believable female lead. A great historical novel and a wonderful character study. Can’t wait to read the next one in this series and looking forward to reading the author’s other novels. I think she may just be my new favorite read!
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Set in 1924 and concerning the aftermath of WW1, this is a murder, a mystery a family tale, and just a smidge of possible romance woven in there. Loved it. Recommended.
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Mar 03, 2015 09:45AM  
  • The Return of Captain John Emmett
  • The Shooting Party
  • I Am Mary Tudor (Mary Tudor, #1)
  • The Fifth Servant
  • A Gentleman of Fortune (A Dido Kent Mystery #2)
  • Tales: Short Stories Featuring Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford (Ian Rutledge, #0.5, #12.5) (Bess Crawford, #1.1, #6.5)
  • Some Old Lover's Ghost
  • The Language of Sand
  • A Surfeit of Guns (Sir Robert Carey, #3)
  • A Suitable Husband
  • Band of Angels
  • Netherwood (Eve Williams, #1)
  • For the King
  • Consequences of Sin
  • A Circle of Souls
  • The Less-Dead
  • The Great Silence 1918-1920: Living in the Shadow of the Great War
  • Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene
Katharine McMahon is the author of 10 novels, including the bestselling The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy pick for 2007.

Her latest book, The Hour of Separation, is published in June 2018.

More about Katharine McMahon

Other books in the series

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

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