Review 1786: The Unforeseen

Although I haven’t yet read Dorothy Macardle’s The Uninvited, the movie based on it remains one of my favorites for Halloween. I didn’t realize that The Unforeseen is not a sequel to it but a follow-up and that a few of the characters make a reappearance. So, I’m reading and reviewing out of order.

Virgilia Wilde cannot afford to live in the city while she is sending her daughter Nan to art school in London, so she buys a cottage in the wilds of Wicklow. There she enjoys herself rambling the countryside and working on a children’s book about birds. However, she begins having strange experiences. First, she thinks she is seeing ghosts—a shadow in the doorway when no one is there, a telegram being delivered when one isn’t. She fears she is losing her mind so consults Dr. Franks, a psychiatrist. But he thinks there is nothing wrong with her. He consults his son Perry, who is a doctor with an interest in parapsychology, and eventually they realize that Virgilia is having visions of the future.

In the meantime, Nan has a frightening encounter with a sculptor and decides to come home for the summer while she works on illustrations for a book. Virgilia doesn’t want Nan to know about her visions, but soon she has some frightening ones.

This is a good little thriller with a supernatural angle to it. It has convincing characters and beautiful descriptions of the Irish countryside, reflecting the relative peace of Ireland during World War II.

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The Uninhabited House

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Review 1743: The Family Upstairs

Here’s another book that qualifies for RIP XVI!

Libby Jones knows that she is adopted and that on her 25th birthday she’ll receive some sort of inheritance. However, she is floored to find she has inherited a house in Chelsea that is worth millions.

The house has a dark history, though. Twenty-four years ago, Libby was found in a cradle in the house with four dead people, an apparent cult suicide. Her teenage brother and sister were missing.

Alternating with Libby’s discoveries is the narrative of Henry Lamb, her brother, who was 10 years old when first Justin and Birdie and more fatefully, David Thomsen and his family moved into the Lambs’ house. Slowly, David begins bringing Henry’s infatuated mother and weak father under his thumb.

We also hear from Lucy, another former inhabitant of the house, who is barely surviving, homeless on Italian streets with her two children and her dog. She needs to get to England and to do so, must beg for help from her abusive ex-husband.

This novel feels like it is building to a suspenseful ending, but its ending is surprising and ambiguous. I wouldn’t exactly class it as a thriller, but it is dark and interesting.

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Review 1716: Burial of Ghosts

Yesterday was the beginning of RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril), which continues through October. During these two months, the goal is to read gothic novels, mysteries, crime novels, horror, or other dark and mysterious books! This one certainly qualifies, so it’s my first book for RIP XVI.

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Having read all of the existing Vera Stanhope and Shetland novels, I decided to try a few of Ann Cleeves’ stand-alone novels. Burial of Ghosts seemed more to me like one of Catriona McPherson’s thrillers than Cleeves’ mysteries.

Lizzie Bartholomew is in Morocco recovering from traumatic events when she meets and has a short affair with an older man, Philip Samson. Some time after she returns to her home in Newbiggen, she receives a letter from a lawyer, Stuart Howden, telling her that Philip has died from cancer and asking her to attend his funeral. Later, at his office she learns that he left her a small legacy, provided she try to find and befriend a teenager named Thomas Mariner. Howdon implies that Mariner is Philip’s illegitimate son.

When Lizzie finds Thomas, she luckily goes into the house with a neighbor, because Thomas is dead, stabbed to death. Still, because Lizzie was previously involved in a stabbing and because she has been diagnosed bi-polar, Inspector Farrier questions her as a suspect. When he checks her story, he tells her that Stuart Howden denies knowing her. However, Farrier does not believe she stabbed Thomas.

Lizzie decides to try to discover who killed Thomas. She finds that Thomas was prepared to be a whistle blower but not for what.

It’s not a surprise that the mystery is difficult to figure out, although I was surprised that Lizzie, having found that Howdon lied, doesn’t question the rest of his story. I enjoyed this novel but felt there was no way to guess the solution.

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Review 1677: Sisters

September and July move suddenly from Oxford with their mother to a decrepit and dirty house on the moors. They have lived there before—the house belongs to their father’s family—but to July the house seems freighted with a depressing atmosphere and full of odd noises.

Something bad happened at school, but July can’t remember what it was. Her depressed mother spends all her time in bed, leaving July and September to fend for themselves. Judging by their games, I thought at first that the girls seemed only about ten or eleven, but we find out later they are several years older. September is the leader, insistent and fiery, sometimes cruel. July is the appeaser, but she has trouble with her memory and sometimes has waking dreams.

In a section from their mother Sheela’s point of view, we learn that she worries September might be demonstrating the same kinds of traits that made Sheela afraid of the girls’ father. Her relationship with him, it appears, was of both love and hatred. Sheela has also worried about the closeness between the two girls, which shuts her out. They behave like twins even though they are 10 months apart.

This novel is a fabulously atmospheric character study. It pulls us forward, making us wonder what is going on. What happened at school? What will happen next? The writing is at times poetic in quality.

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Review 1629: The Guest List

A wild Irish island seems the perfect place for the wedding of Jules and Will. The only building on it is an old mansion that has been fabulously restored and is just big enough for the wedding party and the hosts, Aoife and Freddie. The high-society guests will be boated in the day of the wedding.

The bride and groom seem to be a golden couple. They are both physically attractive, and Jules runs a fashion magazine while Will is a rising star in television. However, someone in the wedding party is a sociopath who has ruined many lives, and future victims are on the guest list.

The novel begins in a tumultuous storm during the wedding reception when a waitress thinks she sees a body outside. From there it flashes back to the points of view of several characters beginning the day before the wedding. And the plot thickens.

I recently read Foley’s The Hunting Party and thought it was excellent. So, I was happy to read The Guest List. At first, though, it seemed awfully familiar—a remote island instead of a remote forest, the same kind of upper crusty characters. However, I was soon sucked in, because Foley is great with a suspenseful plot.

I did have one caveat. If there are several narrators in a book, they should not only have different concerns, which these characters do, but they should sound like different people. I don’t think Foley is quite so successful at that.

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Review 1605: The Hunting Party

Before I start my review, just a little note to let you know I am so far ahead on my reviews (lots of reading going on and not much else) that for a while, at least, I am returning to posting four times a week. I picked now to do it since it’s right after my anniversary post. The new posting day will be Friday, so that you can expect posts on this blog on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for at least the next few months.

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The setup of The Hunting Party felt an awful lot like Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood—a group of old friends getting together in a modern open-plan house out in the middle of nowhere, mayhem to follow. However, I found this book to be much more suspenseful.

For one thing, almost immediately upon the novel’s opening, a death is reported by Heather, an employee of the lodge. But we don’t know who has been killed or under what circumstances. Then the novel alternates in time—in the present with Heather’s point of view and in the past with that of the others.

I won’t enumerate all the guests, because there are nine, and some of them also seem oddly familiar if you’ve read Ware’s novel. There’s Miranda, beautiful but accustomed to getting her own way and horribly bitchy at times, and her husband Julien, who has some secrets. Emma is Miranda’s imitator and admirer, and her boyfriend Mark has a thing for Miranda. Katie, Miranda’s best friend, has been remote of late, to Miranda’s resentment. Aside from several other members of this party, there are an Icelandic couple, described as feral. Oh, and in case that’s not enough suspects, the gamekeeper, Doug, has periods of memory lapse and a violent past, and there is the Highland Ripper out there somewhere.

In any case, this novel pretty much nails you to your seat as it proceeds at a rip-roaring pace. Lots of nasty characters, lots of fun to read.

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Review 1570: The Body Lies

Here’s another book for RIPXV!

The Body Lies opens with the body of a woman lying in the cold. We don’t have any context for this scene for some time during the novel.

The unnamed narrator is pregnant when she is attacked by a complete stranger in the street. Three years later, when she is ready to return to work after a break for child care, she is still afraid, so she looks for a job outside the city. On the basis of her published novel, she is offered a job at a university in the north. Her husband Mark says he can’t leave his job immediately, so he comes to visit as often as he can.

The narrator’s inexperience results in her getting more and more work piled on her by her department head. But more worrisome is the contentious tone between some of the members of her MA creative writing class. In particular, Nicholas Palmer, who seems talented, takes an aggressive attitude toward Steven Haygarth, who opens his crime novel with a nude girl’s dead body.

The narrator finds herself unwittingly getting involved with Nicholas in a way she doesn’t want to be. Nicholas says he’s trying an experiment with fiction never tried before. She has no idea how it will affect her.

At first, I was a little impatient with the student compositions, especially Nicholas’s, even though I knew they would be important to the plot. However, this novel slowly becomes very suspenseful. I have liked all of Jo Baker’s books, and they’ve all been different from each other.

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Review 1555: The Voices Beyond

I have been reading Johan Theorin’s novels for years, ever since I picked up The Darkest Room. The Voices Beyond is one of his atmospheric thrillers set on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. In the case of The Darkest Room, at least, there was also an element of the supernatural. This makes an appropriate book as we’re leading up to Halloween and is also an entry for RIPXV.

The novel begins in 1930, when Gerlof (who appears in all these books) is a young man helping out as a gravedigger. The man being buried is Edvard Kloss, of a family of wealthy farmers, and the rumor is that his two brothers killed him by toppling a wall on him. Also helping the burial that day is a teenager named Aron Fredh, rumored to be a bastard son of Edvard. When the coffin is put in the ground and they begin to cover it, everyone at the graveside hears three distinct raps, apparently coming from the coffin. The men haul the coffin back up and open it, but Edvard is definitely dead. However, his brother Gilbert falls over dead from the shock.

Sixty years later, Gerlof is a retired sea captain staying for the summer in his cottage on the beach in Stevnik. One night when he is sleeping in the boathouse, he is awakened by a terrified boy, Jonas Kloss. Jonas tells him that he was floating on a rubber dinghy when a large ghost ship nearly ran him over. He saved himself by grabbing a dangling rope and was able to get aboard. There he saw dead sailors on the deck and a young man chasing another sailor with an ax. Up in the wheelhouse was an old man. Jonas thinks he has seen the young man before.

Gerlof helps Jonas figure out that the young man sold him movie tickets the year before, so they are able to identify him as Pecka. Although Gerlof asks the boy not to tell anyone this, Jonas confides in his Uncle Kent. Soon Pecka is dead.

Intermittently, we learn the story of Aron Fredh, whose stepfather Sven reportedly took him away to America in 1930, and they were never heard from again. But Sven, a dedicated socialist, actually took him to the Soviet Union, where they lived a brutal life and Aron managed to survive the Great Purge.

Eventually, Gerlof realizes that the old man is Aron Fredh, pursuing some kind of vendetta against the Klosses. But how to find him?

Theorin does something really interesting with these characters that I don’t want to reveal. Let me just say that everything is not what it seems.

Although none of Theorin’s books has been quite as memorable as The Darkest Room, they have all been good, and I think this one is more memorable than the last couple.

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Review 1487: Strangers at the Gate

It seems too good to be true when Paddy Lamb returns from a job interview to report that he’s been offered a partnership at a firm in Simmerton. When his wife, Finnie, raises questions about where she is going to work and how far the commute is, he comes back with an offer of a lease on a cottage belonging to the firm’s owner and the promise of a job for her as a deacon at Simmerton Parish Church.

As soon as they arrive, things begin falling apart. Finnie can see that her help isn’t really needed at the parish church. Then, Finnie and Paddy are invited by Tuft Dudgeon, the wife of Paddy’s new boss, for dinner on the night they move in. They have a pleasant evening, and the two are walking home when Finnie realizes she left her bag. Something has been spooking her all day, so when she returns to the house and can’t raise the Dudgeons, she goes back to the kitchen. There she finds Lovatt and Tuft Dudgeon in a pool of blood, apparent suicides.

She is about to call the police when Paddy stops her, because in his past he was involved in minor criminal activity. The couple decides to wait and let someone discover the bodies, thinking that will happen shortly. But when Paddy arrives at work, he finds that someone has sent a fax saying they have left on vacation to Brazil. The only problem is that the fax was sent after Finnie saw the bodies. As Finnie and Paddy try to get someone to discover the bodies, the lies begin to pile up.

My first impression of this situation was that it was a silly one for McPherson, who usually writes good modern-day cozy thrillers. It was hard for me to believe that Finnie would agree to lie. She is a deacon, albeit an unconventional one, and she seems to take this seriously although with a light touch. However, if you can buy into the situation, it’s a fairly wild ride to the conclusion.

I really love McPherson’s thrillers, because they combine a creepy plot with a community of likable characters often featuring life in a small Scottish village. This one follows that pattern while providing loads of atmosphere in this isolated, dark village.

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Review 1460: The Story Keeper

Audrey Hart arrives on the Isle of Skye to take up a position as an assistant to a folklorist in 1857. She has fled her family because of a situation that occurred during her volunteer work and because her father doesn’t believe a girl of her upbringing should work. She has taken a job on Skye because her mother, who died when she was a child, loved it there.

Upon her arrival in Skye, Audrey notices a croft girl who appears to be ill. The local people believe she was taken by fairies. The Buchanans, her employers, aren’t interested in what happens to a girl of her class. The minister thinks even Miss Buchanan’s story-collecting activities encourage superstition.

Audrey is worried, because she hasn’t been able to get the locals to tell her any stories so can’t do her job. But then she begins hearing about other young girls who have disappeared. No one seems to want to listen to her ideas that the disappearances may be related, not even the kind nephew of Miss Buchanan, Alec. While all this is going on, Alec’s father is enclosing his land and evicting tenants.

This is an atmospheric novel that nicely blends the folklore of the area with more sinister themes. Although I almost immediately figured out what was going on, if not the motive, I enjoyed the journey. This is an entertaining historical suspense novel.

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