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Who is Olivia? To Lucy Quentin, the imaginative daughter of a very proper Victorian family, she is ""different from other people... Where did she come from? What was her family like?"" In the course of many visits to Chandlersgate, ""a scrambling, enchanted dream of a house,"" Lucy hears from Olivia fragments of her strange story: how Olivia's mother ran off to marry her father, a celebrated actor; how both were cursed by Olivia's grandmother, the adherent of a strict fundamentalist sect; how her grandmother took her in at Chandlersgate upon the death of her parents, but has scarcely spoken to her in three years; how Olivia pretends her grandmother is a witch to overcome her fear of her as a person. All this Lucy accepts because she is imaginative, but because she is also curious and likes to know the truth about people, she is puzzled by Olivia's relationship with the man she calls Merlin, an elderly recluse who lets Olivia use his vast library in return for certain mysterious errands. When Lucy learns that Merlin is Captain Ayling, a suspected smuggler of dope and diamonds, she fears for Olivia's safety. In a nail-biting climax, Lucy rescues Olivia from attack by a gang of ragamuffins, delivers a fateful packet to the Captain, and then tells all to her parents. The resolution is swift and wholly satisfying to the principals: confronted by his misdeeds, Captain Ayling leaves town; confronted by her neglect of Olivia, the grandmother renounces her as a hopeless sinner; and Olivia is adopted by Lucy's Aunt Clare, who writes romances like this one. Children may find the grandmother too cruel to countenance -- she's uncomfortably real for this melodramatic situation -- but they will love the ending, which details everything that happened ever after. Girls with a taste for elegant expression and sinister surprises will love this gothic gazebo altogether.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1966
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston