Many of us read Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase or Arabel’s Raven as children, but she also wrote a host of novels for adults. The Embroidered Sunset shares the same sensibility as her children’s books, namely, Dickensian villains with no good qualities, crazy side characters who speak in rhymes and break out in song, and a habit of wrapping up the plot in wholesale destruction (for instance, blowing up a castle in Black Hearts in Battersea, attempting to make a cannon so powerful that it would shoot from Nantucket to London in Nightbirds on Nantucket).
Set in an unspecified year but most likely the mid 1960s, The Embroidered Sunset follows heroine Lucy Culpepper as she returns from Boston to England. Her goal is to become a concert pianist by studying with the famed Max Benovek, but before she can start, she must find her missing great-aunt Fennel at the behest of her evil Uncle Wilbie. Aunt Fennel has been making folk art that might be worth a lot, and greedy Uncle Wilbie wants Lucy to determine if Fennel is alive or dead, and acquire the pictures either way. Lucy has vague memories of a kindly old woman, and wants to help Fennel if she needs it.
As she travels north to the Yorkshire moors, escaped robbers, ghosts, possible murders, and deadly storms arise. It’s classic Joan Aiken, yet the ending was a bit of a shock. This was a quick read, for grown up fans of Simon and Dido.