I’ve always been too terrified to watch scary movies, but give me a good gothic novel and I’m in heaven. Especially a gothic novel with romance. Then I’m there with an awkwardly enthusiastic smile and a glitter covered poster-board.
That’s why I always eagerly anticipate a Susanna Kearsley novel. They have some of the things that I find most delicious in a gothic work: a historical and contemporary timeline, in which the contemporary characters are trying to solve a mystery related to the historical timeline; vividly rendered, atmospheric backdrops, often with supernatural elements, whether it’s ghosts, time travel, mysteriously found artifacts, etc.; romance in both the historical and contemporary timelines. Sometimes it’s doomed, sometimes it’s HEA, but it’s always lovely and fills me with the same happiness I get from a peaceful morning: dew still on the ground, pear-colored light slanting in through the windows, and a cup of coffee in my hand. You get the picture.
Kearsley’s latest, Bellewether, is set in Long Island and revolves around two timelines: one set during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), and one set during present day. In the present-day timeline, Charley Van Hoek has moved to Millbank, New York after the death of her brother to care for her young adult niece, Rachel, and her house, and to be the curator of the Wilde House museum. The Wilde House is famous for being the home of Benjamin Wilde, a famous Revolutionary War hero, and for being haunted. The locals say that you can see a lantern wandering the path from the house to the water, and they attribute the ghost carrying it to a doomed love story: a French soldier who has "signed the paper giving his parole of honor" (basically a POW, in our terms), was held in the home at the end of the French and Indian War, and he and the young woman of the house—who was loyal to the British, the opposing side—fell in love. The legend says that he was murdered by the young woman’s brother when their relationship was discovered.
We get Charley’s perspective, but luckily for us, we also get Jean-Phillipe’s—the French soldier—and Lydia Wilde’s, the young woman. Jean-Phillipe, a soldier born in Canada and fighting for the French, is drawn to Lydia, even though he knows no English and can sense her resentment toward his presence in her home. Lydia is recovering from the loss of her fiancé, who was killed by the French during the French and Indian War.
Did Jean-Phillipe and Lydia have a romantic relationship, despite the odds against them? Did it end in both of their deaths, as the legend says? Is there a ghost at Wilde House?
The answers are in Bellewether.
Though I was a little bemused (perhaps even slightly disappointed) by one plot element (DM me for spoiler-y details!), on the whole this book was exactly what I was craving and expecting. A compelling mystery-romance that kept me engrossed to the very last page; two haunting stories that intertwined; and richly developed historical details that made me think about how we write our history, and that prove once again how wonderful of a storyteller Kearsley is.
Pssst! If You Like This Book, Try: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, any Kate Morton book, The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
**I was given an ARC of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.