An aspiring private investigator uncovers a mystery when she takes a job as an au pair.
Ashley Smeeton always dreamed of becoming a sleuth. When she was 9, she witnessed her first investigation when a murder mystery unfolded in her hometown. Now in her mid-20s, she has set up an agency in Montreal, but she is unable to accept clients until she receives her license from the government. In need of cash, she accepts a summer job as an au pair at Columbine Lodge in the Laurentian Mountains. Her client is Layla Sampson, a single mother with a 4-year-old daughter, Meade. When Ashley arrives at the lodge, she encounters an eccentric and wealthy but deeply dysfunctional family. Lionel Sampson owns the lodge and controls the finances. Along with Layla and Meade, he shares the home with his sister, Edyth, and nephew, Peter. After a slow start, Ashley bonds with the quiet but perceptive Meade and befriends members of the household staff, including the charming and seductive Jon Perez. What begins as a routine job takes an ominous turn when residents of the lodge die suddenly, and Ashley is drawn into a web of family secrets and treachery. Dowdall’s (After the Winter, 2017) latest novel offers a resourceful heroine, atmospheric settings, and well-plotted suspense. First introduced in After the Winter, Ashley is a likable heroine whose inquisitive nature helps her navigate the complicated dynamics of the Sampson family. Dowdall skillfully uses the settings throughout the tale, including the bustling city of Montreal—featuring “the thundering boxcars and the whine of the electric train”—and the lodge with its unique hillside design. Although the settings are effective, there are a few similarities between the lodge and Midwinter, the Quebec estate in After the Winter. Both are remote estates owned by wealthy but troubled families. Perhaps Ashley’s next case will keep her in Montreal. The storytelling is strong and confident, and Dowdall includes enough back story to satisfy both newcomers and established fans of the series. This installment should appeal to fans of Louise Penny.
A well-crafted Gothic suspense story with an engaging heroine.