Brutality lurks just beneath the surface of 1930s England in this absorbing Gothic mystery from British author Taylor (An Unpardonable Crime, 2004, etc.).
Three tangled threads weave through the atmospheric story. The reader, forthrightly addressed as “you,” is made disconcertingly privy to the secrets memorialized in the diary of Philippa Penhow, a lonely spinster who falls easy prey to the flattery of Major Joseph Serridge. Miss Penhow’s tragic, mysterious fate is intertwined with that of the later residents of Bleeding Heart Square, including gracious Lydia Langstone, a fugitive from her prominent, abusive husband; her drunken father, Captain Ingleby-Lewis; and Mr. Fimberry, the shell-shocked assistant sexton of the ancient church in the square. Urged on by the shadowy Mr. Narton, Rory Wentwood investigates Miss Penhow’s disappearance in the hopes of claiming her estate for his fiancée, Miss Penhow’s niece Fenella. As he proceeds, a chain of sinister coincidences encircles Rory and Lydia, while poverty, fascism and literally bleeding hearts mount at their doorstep. At length all three threads are twisted together in a satisfying resolution that is darkly just but not merciful.
A gripping tale whose slow nightmare of terror is made even more resonant by its unimpeachable logic.