Burnt Norton carries an endorsement by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, who calls it “a powerful story, beautifully told”. I agree entirely with the first point — the story has enough twists and turns to satisfy the most addicted soap opera fan, with scandal, grief, lust, attempted murder and forbidden love.

The author, Caroline Sandon, lives at Burnt Norton, the Cotswolds house where poet T S Eliot wandered into the neglected garden and was prompted to muse on “time present, time past”, using the house’s name for the first poem in his Four Quartets.

This novel is not about the poem, but focuses on the 1741 fire started by owner Sir William Keyt, who died in the blaze.

We first meet the family shortly before a fatal carriage crash near Enstone, which kills favoured youngest son John. Sir William loses interest in life after the accident, but then meets Molly Johnson, the lively daughter of a local innkeeper. Sir William brings her to Norton House as a servant, where she catches the eye of his eldest son Thomas.

The scene is set for father-and-son rivalry, and you can’t help hoping that Molly will steer clear of both.

When Sir William’s wife discovers the affair, he tries to murder the butler (this is apparently true). Sir William builds a new house for Molly, and when she eventually leaves as well, he turns to drink.

At first I found myself wincing at Sandon’s occasional clumsy cliches, and wishing for firmer editing. But I was soon caught up in the fast-moving plot. The writing has bursts of passion — the human chain of estate workers and servants passing buckets to fight the fire is vividly portrayed — and there is plenty of local interest, with Chipping Campden and Hidcote featuring.

As you would expect, Sandon is good on period detail and social status, but the characters never quite convince — apart from Sir William’s daughter Dorothy, whose voice feels completely authentic, when she is allowed to speak her mind.

Fine sentences are less important than plot for many readers, and this should keep them gripped.

* The author will be at Oxford Literary Festival on March 30. Festival booking office now open Mon-Sat 10.30am-4.30pm, Blackwell Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford, tel 0870 343 1001.