Book Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

Genre: Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery

Publishing Info: 2015 by Virago Press (originally published in 1936 by Victor Gollancz Ltd)

Pages: 302

Star Rating: 3/5

Jamaica Inn

Back Cover Summary:

After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan crosses
the windswept Cornish moors to Jamaica Inn,
the home of her Aunt Patience. There she finds
Patience a changed woman, downtrodden by her
violent husband Joss Merlyn. Mary discovers that
the inn is a front for a lawless gang of criminals, and
is unwillingly dragged into their dangerous world of
smuggling and murder. Despite herself, she
becomes powerfully attracted to a man she dares
not trust – Joss Merlyn’s brother. Before long she
will be forced to cross her own moral
line to save herself.


After my holiday this summer in the beautiful county of Cornwall (which you can read about here), I became interested in the literature of the area. My thoughts immediately turned to Daphne Du Maurier, arguably the most successful Cornish writer of the twentieth century. Having already read Rebecca, one of her bestsellers that I thoroughly enjoyed, I had high hopes for this one. However this didn’t hit the same highs, for a variety of reasons.

One of the strongest points of the novel is the introduction to the Inn and its surrounding landscape. The sense of claustrophobia when the protagonist explores the dark and decaying rooms is very well done, as is the initial introduction to the residents. Both Joss and Patience Merlyn are initially portrayed very well, adding to the ill feeling the readers would already have from the setting. The surrounding moors are very atmospheric at first, especially regarding the description of the barren landscape. Yet after a while, there is a feeling that the author doesn’t have much more to add, so further journeys onto the moors become repetitive; fog, bog and tiring slogs would be the best way to describe these.

In a similar way to the setting, the characters also do not fare well as the book progresses. The true extent of Joss and Patience’s behaviours are revealed too early in the novel and it is hard to find more than two dimensions to them after this. The love interest, Joss’s brother Jem, is initially represented as being as troublesome as his sibling but the protagonist eventually sees past this and falls for the man within – it is so pedestrian and so expected that I could see where Du Maurier was taking the character almost instantaneously. Other characters that the protagonist comes into contact with are either archetypal or merely plot points, with very little dimension to the characterisation or their motivations. Without a doubt, the people seen in the text are the weakest part of this novel.

As a whole, the plot feels a bit too stop start and seems to be incapable of including both atmosphere and powerful narrative. A couple of occasions, including the introduction to the inn, manage to combine the two but these are few and far between. Between these hard-hitting scenes are several side-stories that do nothing to propel the plot forward. As a result, the final reveal doesn’t feel as effective as it could be, as the majority of the action has already taken place in the scenes previous to it.

A massive contributing factor is the fact the protagonist is a woman and therefore is forced to the sidelines on a number of occasions whilst the men carry out the investigations. The resigned vibes the reader gets from her is a signal that she is aware of it, yet she herself does nothing to challenge it. Whilst written in the middle of the twentieth century, Du Maurier sets the novel at least a century previous, meaning that it was realistic to have a powerless heroine for the period but most likely as frustrating for the readers of the period than it is for a twenty-first century one like myself.

Even with all of its problems, some of them striking, I would choose to read this novel again as it isn’t particularly difficult to read and follow and allows me to reminisce about times I have been on the Cornish moors. I am interested in reading more of the author’s novels; I just hope that those don’t have laughingly predictable endings and annoying heroines.

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