I'm not surprised that Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon has been in print since publication in 1862, when it was an immediate success, and that it became one of the best-selling novels of the nineteenth century, for it's a cracking tale!
Yes, its prose is at times florid and over-written and its authorial voice is often quite 'chummy' in its commentary, and of course we know from early on what it is that the eponymous Lady Audley is keeping secret, but it's the very gradual dénouement which makes the reader turn the pages as Robert Audley "learns the business of life" by acting detective and discovering what really happened to his friend George Talboys who disappeared on a visit to Audley Court.
There are some very convenient clues to keep the plot moving, and although "whatever the mystery may be it grows darker and thicker at every step", events do slot into place rather neatly; but I think that's part of the book's charm, so that while Robert is dashing about the place, jumping on and off trains, and feeling that "a hand that is stronger than my own is beckoning me onward upon the dark road", we have grown to trust the author to give us the ending we want - and so she does.
"'She is a vain, frivolous, heartless little coquette,' said Alicia, addressing herself to her Newfoundland dog, Caesar, who was the sole recipient of the young lady's confidences; 'she is a practised and consummate flirt, Caesar; and not contented with setting her yellow ringlets and her silly giggle at half the men in Essex, she must needs make that stupid cousin of mine dance attendance upon her. I haven't common patience with her.'" Caesar, it must be said, shared this opinion, showing he had more sense than George and Sir Michael! (The picture is Lion: A Newfoundland Dog by Landseer, by the way).
What did you think of the book? Was it just a little too pat for you, or were you comfortable in it, and glad to be along for the ride? After a slowish start, did you like the ending which "leaves the good people all happy and at peace"?; a deliberately popular move on the part of the author, I should think. Are you now inclined to read more by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, for example The Doctor's Wife, her version of Madame Bovary?! I certainly am.
The cake to go with this book is here.