In the wake of World War II, orphaned London siblings Eliza and Rebecca must live with their Aunt Bess, the only other family survivor. But Aunt Bess is not a very affectionate woman, and she is also deep in gambling debts. Thus begins the gothic suspense novel Abigale Hall by Lauren Forry.
One day the sisters are sent off to Wales to enter the service of a Mr. Brownawell, the owner of Thornecroft. It soon becomes clear that Aunt Bess sent her nieces there in exchange for help paying off her debts, and that the ancient and crumbling manor house hides a dark secret connected to the mysterious death of Victoria, Mr. Brownawell’s fiance.
Portraits of Victoria are scattered throughout the house, but the manor’s vicious housekeeper Mrs. Pollard won’t divulge any information about her. After a bizarre ritual of a late-night dinner with Mr. Brownawell that Eliza is forced to endure dressed in the dead fiance’s white gown, Eliza’s dreams begin to be haunted by nightmares of Victoria.
It seems that escaping Thornecroft and returning to London may be the only way to survive, and Eliza begins preparations for that. But then her sister Rebecca, who had been falling under Mrs. Pollard’s increasing spell, disappears. Eliza must find her sister before either or both of them share the fate of previous maids who had vanished without a trace over the years.
Abigale Hall with its dark, suspenseful plot is reminiscent at times of Jane Eyre and at times of Daphne du Meurier’s Rebecca, especially in the archetypal character of the wicked housekeeper protecting her master’s secrets. Some of the most interesting parts of the story are the flashbacks to the war years, the evacuation of London’s children to the country, the horrors of the Blitz, and the impact that history has on a family.
The writing is not as engaging as in those classical tales, but it is still entertaining for those who enjoy the gothic subgenre of suspense.
If you like historical fiction, check out The Greenest Branch, my novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. It is FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited, and available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and several other Amazon marketplaces.