From the publisher: It’s 1852 and Margaret Lennox, a young widow, attempts to escape the shadows of her past by taking a position as governess to an only child, Louis, at an isolated country house in the west of England. But Margaret soon starts to feel that something isn’t quite right. There are strange figures in the dark, tensions between servants, and an abandoned east wing. Even stranger is the local gossip surrounding Mrs. Eversham, Louis’s widowed mother. As Margaret’s history threatens to catch up with her, it isn’t long before she learns the truth behind the secrets of Hartwood Hall.
I love a good Gothic novel, and this is one of the best I’ve read recently. It opens with a one-page prologue that teases events that are to come. It’s hard to build suspense and mystery in a novel, but the author does a good job here.
Narrator Margaret is a bit annoying as she allows herself to be bullied by another servant, but as we find out as the book goes along, she has Been Through Things, so her fear and timidity are not out of character. She lost hearing in one ear as a young woman, and in Victorian England, for a woman with no family and no money, that physical imperfection is a concern.
The house is beautifully described – I could imagine it quite well inside and out – and overall the atmosphere is a great combination of haunting and ordinary. Of course there is a distrustful village. Of course there is a handsome gardener. Of course there is a closed off wing to the mansion. But I thought the author deployed the stereotypical elements of a Gothic novel very effectively. All in all, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall is just a lot of fun. (And although it is definitely in the tradition of the Victorian Gothic novel, this book believably imparts messages about female strength and empowerment.)
I look forward to future works from author Lumsden. I read an advance reader copy of The Secrets of Hartwood Hall from Netgalley.
The book is scheduled to be published on February 28, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it in multiple formats.