Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger combines historical fiction with a touch of supernatural. Set in a crumbling, gloomy manor of Hundreds Hall in the English countryside in the immediate postwar years, it has a psychologically tense air that will appeal to many gothic mystery fans.
Middle-aged country physician, Dr. Faraday, is called one day to attend to a sick housemaid at Hundreds Hall, once the seat of a prosperous landowning family, now falling into disrepair. From the start, things don’t add up. The maid’s illness may not be what it seems, and it soon becomes clear that the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Ayers, and her two adult children, are affected by more than economic hardship.
In the months that follow, Dr. Faraday befriends the family and he witnesses strange occurrences that take place at Hundreds Hall. They include a random attack by the house pet on a young child, and an unexplained fire. There is a suggestion that an evil force may have the manor in its grip, although the physician’s rational mind struggles to accept that possibility. Nonetheless, as the plot moves forward, it becomes clear that something is afoot, and that the house is another character in the story, perhaps more powerful and dominant than the humans inhabiting it. The Ayerses may be ready to leave the place behind, but will it let them go?
The influence of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher inevitably comes to mind while reading The Little Stranger. But the story is also a metaphor of the old England disappearing with the ravages of World War II and of the birth of a social order personified by new money and the NHS. The atmosphere of the crumbling stately house is richly rendered, and the social commentary is interesting if one can ignore the sometimes glacial pace of the storytelling.
If you like historical mysteries, you may enjoy Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.