Thanks Joe for sending me a copy of this book.
England 1917, and VAD nurse, Stella Marcham is home from the front after the death of her fiancé, Gerald Fitzwilliam. Broken by grief, and feeling trapped at home, she needs a change of scene. As it happens, her sister Madeleine is pregnant and feeling anxious at Greyswick, her husband’s family home, and when Hector, her brother-in-law, asks Stella to visit, she readily accepts.
Stella finds Greyswick to be the gauche house of a nouveau riche family. Dark, over-decorated, staffed only by Cook, Maisie the maid and the glowering Mrs Henge, it is not a happy place. Madeleine is anxious but she won’t say why. Slowly things start to fall into place and Stella starts to experience things she can’t explain.
Unfortunately, the lady of the house refuses to believe them. Hector arrives with an amateur supernatural investigator, Tristan Sheer, to convince the sisters that they’re being hysterical.
With Stella is Annie Burrows, maid and daughter of the man who died trying to rescue the youngest Marcham sister from a fire. Annie is unusual. She can see ghosts. And she knows who is haunting Madeleine and why. A decades old murder is at the root of their problems. So, in parallel with Sheen’s investigation, the women set about solving the murder to end the haunting.
I haven’t been well so I spent a day in bed and read the first 248 pages of this 450 page novel. The next day I sat down and read the rest. That sort of reading speed even when sick is usually a good indication of how much I enjoyed a novel. I really liked this book. My plan had been to read it over 3 days, 150 pages a day. Except I couldn’t stop reading and before I knew it, between naps, I had read over half the novel.
Told by Stella in the first person, the story slowly unfolds as she struggles with her own grief, her sister’s strange experiences and men who are insistent that they’re both just being hysterical females. The mother-in-law isn’t much better, either.
It’s a haunting story, well-written and highly effecting. At least to me, I had a dream about Lucian, the murdered child/ghost, nice kid desperate for revenge. My brain does weird stuff, but I must have been invested in the story for me to dream about it.
The characters are really well developed, with complex personal histories and personalities. Stella is the mediating factor so we only learn what she knows, sees and hears, which increases the emotional impact of events.
The setting, with the background of the Great War, Stella’s trauma, the dark country house, the questionable servants and bad weather, builds on the complexity of the characters to give a rich world in which anything can happen.
The ending was dramatic, especially with the arrival of Stella’s nemesis, a doctor intent on putting her in an institution for her ‘unnecessary’ grief, and the revelations after Tristan returns from London. Ooh, it was exciting. I was gripped, utterly gripped. This is the second ‘Great War/country house ghost story‘ I’ve read this month and I can’t decide which I like best. They’re equally good in terms of storytelling, but I think I prefer this for the characters. Stella and Annie, with Tristan tagging along, make a great investigating team. I wonder if they’ll have any more adventures together?