Review 1662: The Poison Thread

Dorothea Trueblood is a youngish Victorian heiress who prefers to spend her days pursuing charitable causes rather than in socializing. Her conservative father wants her to marry as highly as possible, but she has secretly engaged herself to a police constable. Something keeps her from breaking the news to her father, even though she is of age.

She is fascinated by phrenology, so one of her charities is Oakgate Prison, where she visits prisoners in hopes of measuring their heads. Therefore, she is excited when Ruth Butterham, a young maid who murdered her employer, comes to the prison.

Ruth begins to tell Dottie her story, and it’s not long before Dottie realizes that Ruth is telling her she killed people by putting bad thoughts into the sewing she was doing for them. Dottie doesn’t find an enlarged organ of deceit in Ruth, but she can only assume she is lying.

This gothic novel has quite a lot going for it. It pins you to the page while you wonder where it is going. I was suspicious of Dottie at first, thinking her interest in Ruth a bit salacious. But I liked Ruth more. This is quite a nice dark book.

Related Posts

Akin

Burial Rites

Dark Enchantment

Review 1649: The Hoarder (aka Mr. Flood’s Last Resort)

Best of Ten!
Let me just start out by saying I hate the trend of changing the name of a book from the British edition to the U. S. edition. In this case, I got caught out buying both versions of this novel just because I didn’t realize they were the same. I loved this novel, but I don’t need two copies of it. If they are going to do this, the least they could do is warn us in really big letters on the cover.

____________________________

As with Things in Jars, it took a bit of time before I plunged myself into the eccentric world of The Hoarder. But when I did, I was all in.

Maud Drennan is a care worker whose job it is to feed the difficult Cathal Flood and attempt to make some headway in cleaning his house, for the old man is a hoarder. There are odd rumors surrounding Flood, not only about his recent behavior—he is supposed to have tried to brain carer Sam Hebden with a hurley—but also about his past—his wife died after falling down the stairs.

Maud herself is a little eccentric. She is followed around by the ghosts of saints, particularly St. Dymphna and St. Valentine, and her best friend is Renata, an agoraphobic transgender woman with an elaborate wardrobe. It is Renata who suggests that perhaps it was Cathal Flood who pushed his wife down the stairs.

Certainly, something is going on, because Maud is approached by Gabriel Flood, Cathal’s son, who is looking for something in the house. Then, Renata and Maud discover that Gabriel had a sister, Maggie, who disappeared as a teenager. Maud’s sister, we learn, also disappeared, so Maud becomes immersed in an investigation and attempts to search the blocked-off portions of Cathal Flood’s house.

This novel is a bit gothic, a bit funny, a bit haunting, and Kidd’s writing is brilliant. Love this one. Need more.

Related Posts

Things in Jars

The Vet’s Daughter

The Rathbones

Review 1625: The Secret of Greylands

The Secret of Greylands is 219 pages long, and I realized the secret about 200 pages before the main characters did. Nevertheless, I found it an entertaining gothic novel, atmospheric and with a likable heroine.

Lady Cynthia Letchingham flees her new marriage when she finds out her husband ruined her best friend. She has nowhere to go, but she recently received a curious letter from her older cousin Hannah asking her to visit, so she goes to Hannah’s home at Greylands.

Hannah has married a much younger man, Mr. Gillman, who tries to send Cynthia away when she arrives, only to become a little more welcoming after he finds out she is friendless and hasn’t seen her cousin since she was a little girl. He doesn’t allow her to see Hannah, who he says has fallen and is paralyzed in bed, until the arrival of another cousin, Sybil. Cynthia has to admit Sybil looks a lot like Hannah when she finally meets her.

Hannah seems excitable and demanding but not fearful as she was in her letter except of having her door unlocked. Nevertheless, Cynthia can’t help feeling something is amiss, as she confides to the neighbor, Mr. Heriot.

There are plenty of hints about the true state of affairs at Greylands, including an outspoken parrot, a neglected pet, mysterious goings on at night, and Hannah’s hands, but the characters can’t quite put two and two together. However, it’s a fun read, and I enjoyed it. This is another good older (1924) mystery from Dean Street Press.

Related Posts

The Haunted Hotel

The Grey Woman

Dark Enchantment

Review 1571: The Stranger Diaries

Here’s a final book for RIPXV!

I have been following Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries, which I enjoy, but Galloway’s homage to the gothic novel, The Stranger Diaries, is something else again. I thought it was a stand-alone, but Goodreads has it marked as Harbinder Kaur #1, so perhaps there will be more.

Clare Cassidy is a schoolteacher who is writing a book about R. M. Holland, a Victorian gothic writer whose home is now occupied by Clare’s school. He was also the author of a horror story called “The Stranger.”

When she arrives at school, Clare is horrified to discover that her friend Ella was murdered in her home. Later, when Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur comes to interview her, Clare learns that a piece of paper with “Hell is empty” was found with the body. Although Clare tells the police that the quote is from The Tempest, she does not say that it is also used in “The Stranger.” Another thing that Clare doesn’t tell police is that Ella had a one-night stand with Rick Lewis, their married department head.

Later, when Clare goes to check her diary to see what she wrote about Ella and Rick, she finds that someone has written a message in her diary. When the handwriting is compared to that of the note by the body, it is the same.

This tribute to gothic literature is atmospheric and truly scary at times. I thought it was terrific.

Related Posts

The Fifth Petal

The Crossing Places

The Janus Stone

Review 1551: The Grey Woman

Here’s another book for RIPXV.

This novel opens with an unnamed narrator, a traveler in Germany, who meets a pale woman known as The Grey Woman. When he asks for her story, she gives him a letter she wrote to her daughter. This letter contains her story.

As a young girl in 1778, Anna Scherer is very beautiful. A miller’s daughter, she is invited to visit a school friend in Karlsruhe, where she stays with the Rupprechts. She is a shy girl, but she makes a conquest of her social better, a Frenchman named Monsieur de la Tourelle. She is pushed by Frau Rupprecht into receiving him and accepting his gifts, and the next thing she knows, she is engaged to marry him even though he makes her feel uncomfortable.

After their marriage, de la Tourelle takes her to his castle in the Vosges Mountains, where she feels that the servants spy on her. He makes her cut all ties to her family and tries to control her every movement, not allowing her even to go for a walk. The saving grace is Amante, the servant he hired to be her lady’s maid.

Aside from being a stern and controlling husband, de la Tourelle has a fearsome secret, which Anna and her maid discover by accident.

This novel is typical of the gothic genre that was popular in its time, except that it is much more believable than most that I have read, not including any supernatural elements. I took it to be one of Gaskell’s earlier works, and it may have been, because it was published the year of her death, in 1865. It is very short, easy reading, although the antique-sounding dialogue is a bit cumbersome. Luckily, there’s not much of it.

Related Posts

Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

The Castle of Wolfenbach

The Mysteries of Udolpho

Review 1531: The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham

I picked up this collection of gothic stories from the library so that I could read one of them, “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” for the 1920 Club. Then I decided to read the rest of this beautifully presented book.

It’s hard for me to know what to say about it, because this type of gothic horror story, which used to appear in such magazines as Weird Tales, is just not my thing. On the other hand, it is almost definitely for people who like this genre. I prefer my scary stories to be about things that could happen or about ghosts, but Lovecraft is clearly drawn to grotesque creatures, dark family histories of the most freakish, and ancient rituals and beliefs become reality.

That he was deeply knowledgeable in the latter and often based his stories in actual locations or history is attested to by the many annotations and pictures in the margins of this book. That his writing is heavily dependent on description, some of it highly florid, is also certain. He loves using adjectives and adverbs, many of them unlikely, such as describing ruins as “hideously ancient.” In fact, he seems to have a fascination and repugnance for old things, both at the same time—or at least his narrators do.

The earlier stories are very short, only a couple of pages, while the later ones get longer and longer, so that I finished about half of the book but more than 3/4 of the stories.

Some of the more notable stories are “The Shunned House,” based on an actual house in Providence, in which the inhabitants seem to die off; “The Rats in the Walls,” combining a haunted house story with one of his favorite themes of a dark, hidden family history; and “The Outsider,” about a being who discovers he lives in a crypt. One of the stories, “Ex Oblivione,” described as a prose poem, I was unable to finish, but the rest were entertaining enough, just not my thing.

Related Posts

The Doom That Came to Sarnath

The Bloody Chamber

Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

Review 1517: House of Glass

Clara is born with bones so fragile that as she grows, they can snap for the slightest reason. Her mother and stepfather keep her inside a home filled with padded corners until she is an adult. When they judge that she is finally able to come out, she is slightly misshapen through injuries that didn’t heal well.

Shaken after her mother’s death, Clara finds comfort in visiting Kew Gardens and learning about the plants. Her voracious curiosity tends her to spend a lot of time talking to the foreman of the glasshouse. Eventually, he offers her a job. A wealthy man wants to establish his own glasshouse to rival that of Kew. Will she take a job overseeing the planting and establishment of this garden?

Clara decides to take the job at Shadowbrook, where she is received by the housekeeper, Mrs. Bale. The owner of the house, Mr. Fox, is often away on business, and even when he is home he doesn’t like to be disturbed in his rooms on the upper floor.

Clara finds there are rumors in the village about the house and its former occupants, the Pettigrews. Mrs. Bale seems to be under some strain, and she eventually reports that the house is haunted by Vivenne Pettigrew. Clara doesn’t believe in ghosts and begins trying to learn about the Pettigrews. Those who are willing to talk about Vivienne seem to be describing a different person than she imagines from the few words spoken by those who knew her.

Ever since Fletcher’s marvelous Corrag, I have been waiting for her to write something as good. This novel comes very close. It starts out as a ghost story but goes much farther, exploring women’s role in pre-World War I society. It is atmospheric and wonderfully written, with an assertive and appealing heroine. I recommend it highly.

Related Posts

Corrag

Let Me Tell You about a Man I Knew

The Lace Reader

Review 1496: #1920Club: The Doom That Came to Sarnath

“The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” which I read for the 1920 Club, was my introduction to H. P. Lovecraft, whom I’ve read about for years. Based on this one story, I can’t really say much about Lovecraft’s work, but I intend to read all of the book it came in, The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham.

The short story is written in archaic language that is supposed to remind us, and does, of old stories and legends. It tells how men came to live near the ancient city of Ib, occupied by green, voiceless beings with bulging eyes, and destroyed the city and all its inhabitants, and how its sea green idol disappeared. There the men founded the city of Sarnath.

Later, the city becomes wealthy and so beautiful that people from other cities visit it. But doom was foretold with the original actions of the men, and on the city’s thousandth anniversary . . . . Well, I won’t tell.

I get the impression just from the notes on this annotated edition that Lovecraft invented whole worlds that he returned to in other stories. The story is atmospheric but very short and not particularly scary or disturbing.

Related Posts

Cheri

The Bridal Wreath

The Bloody Chamber

Review 1417: The Web of Days

I think it is interesting to reread a book I read long ago to see if or how my reaction to it has changed. This can work both ways—I can appreciate a book I disliked the first time or see the flaws in a book I loved. I remember reading the gothic romance The Web of Days when I was a teenager, borrowed from a neighbor’s house for whom I was babysitting. After the kids went to bed, I would pull it out for the next installment. I liked the book and had a crush on its romantic hero. So, what did I think this time? More about that later.

Hester Snow arrives from the North at Seven Chimneys, a ruined plantation on one of the sea islands of Georgia just after the Civil War. She is to be a governess for Rupert LeGrand, the son of the owner of the plantation, Saint Clair LeGrand. At the house she finds an indifferent master; his mother Madame, who cares only for her food; and his wife Lorelei, who drinks too much. The house is slovenly, the fields are ruined, and the servants are insolent.

Hester believes that with hard work and oversight, Seven Chimneys could be made profitable again, and she soon seeks permission from LeGrand to see to it. When she begins to find herself successful, she becomes obsessed with seeing the plantation thrive and making a home for herself. What she doesn’t see is the truth behind the relationships between the family members at Seven Chimneys.

She is attracted to Roi, Saint’s dashing bastard half brother, but he offers a life in a cabin in Missouri. Hester thinks that will be a harsh life of drudgery and wants nothing to do with it.

First of all, this novel is so racist it took my breath away. It’s hard to tell if Lee was trying to depict the time as it was or was racist herself. However, Hester herself is racist. Even though she comes to like a couple of the African-American characters, she treats more than one of them despicably, and they are all stereotypical.

Second, in other ways Hester is not at all likable, being so obsessed with succeeding on the plantation and feeling herself so superior to the southern characters. In many ways, except for not being evil, she reminds me of the main character in one of Philippa Gregory’s early series, Wideacre. She acts fairly reprehensibly up to the very end of the novel, when she has a change of heart. Frankly, she does not deserve her happy ending.

Did I like the book? It is well written and atmospheric. It has some suspenseful scenes, and Hester finds herself in a corner. But no, not only is the racism too much for me, but the regionalism is, too, because Lee depicts most southerners as loafing crackers (she even uses the word), greedy vulgar businessmen, or effete, elitist aristocrats. This is not at all the book I remembered reading.

Related Posts

Varina

Days Without End

This Godforsaken Place

Review 1375: Melmoth

Helen Franklin is an Englishwoman living in Prague who leads a willfully colorless and drab existence. She dresses and behaves as if she wants no one to notice her and makes a living translating brochures. In nine years in Prague, she has made only two friends, Karel and Thea, a couple.

Helen encounters Karel one night, looking ill. Thea was recently stricken by multiple sclerosis, and Helen assumes he is worried about her. He tells her the story of a manuscript he’s been given that documents sightings of Melmoth. In the legend of the novel, Melmoth (who seems in actuality to be based on a male character in an Irish Gothic novel) witnessed Christ arisen from the grave but denied it. In this novel, Melmoth is an evocatively described woman, a suggestion of tattered sheer silks, who is fated to witness man’s inhumanity. She appears to those who have entered the depths of despair and asks them to keep her company.

Through the manuscripts, we learn the stories of several people who have caused the sufferings of others and who have met Melmoth. Both Karel and Helen are immediately obsessed with this vision and imagine Melmoth stalking them.

The novel is tied together by the gradual exposure of Helen’s own crime, but the themes of the novel center around the history of man’s inhumanity and the importance and difficulty of witness.

This novel was certainly a departure from Perry’s The Essex Serpent, and I wasn’t sure how much I liked it. It has a deeply Gothic atmosphere, suitable for its setting in Prague, but I didn’t understand its characters’ fascination with Melmoth. Also, I had little sympathy for most of the characters whose crimes are related in the manuscript, even though I was sympathetic to Helen. Although this novel has more serious intentions, I have to say I preferred The Essex Serpent.

Related Posts

The Essex Serpent

Wylding Hall

The Coffin Path