Even though she was only nineteen, and a woman, Janet Clarissa Clarke was determined to prove herself a capable restorer of Lord Rathbone’s priceless collection of paintings. She desperately needed employment, and the fact that she signed her letter of application with initials instead of her full name was only a slight deception. The position at Cheviot Chase was her last chance, and she approached it with high hopes. But Janet’s life darkened the moment she set foot inside the ponderous, dimly lit stone mansion, for the halls of Cheviot Chase were dark and empty, the servants sullen and bitter.
What was it about Cheviot Chase that doomed its occupants to tragedy? Already strongly attracted to her handsome employer, Janet refused to admit that Lord Rathbone might have played a part in the sinister events that were only whispered about – even when she learned that his first wife had hurled herself into the sea and his second, a madwoman, had burned down the East Wing. And where was Lady Rathbone now?
Janet soon realized that she was no longer a mere observer of the frightening drama taking place at Cheviot Chase. She was at its center. And her very life was in mortal danger.
This is a quintessential gothic romance. First person narration, in Janet’s point-of-view. A destitute but spunky heroine. A handsome, magnetic and mysterious hero who is dogged by nasty rumours that he had pushed his pregnant first wife over the sea cliff, and drove his second wife mad. A houseful of relatives, guests and servants who squabble and behave most suspiciously. A huge, isolated and forbidding mansion that keeps its secrets close. All these elements are consistent with most gothics. So what sets this story apart?
The writing, for one. It’s sparse and straight to the point, but it’s entirely evocative and effective.
Fingers of dampness finally assailed my nostrils and I stood. I carefully backed away from the nest, deciding it was time to return to the house. I had a good sense of direction, but a heavy fog could easily disorient one. I was about to turn and retrace my steps, but froze in place when low, menacing snarls greeted my ears. The ominous sounds rooted me to the spot as the smoky fog began to curl about my feet.
Janet and Lord Rathbone’s love story progresses believably, although his unpredictability causes her no small amount of bewilderment and heartache.
The mystery is well done too. Many mishaps happen almost immediately after Janet arrives at Cheviot Chase that had me guessing – who causes them and why. I couldn’t pinpoint the culprit, as everyone (except the heroine) has motive and opportunity.
This fast and riveting read is a fine example of its genre.