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As in The Leavetaking (p. 80), Gilbert has conjured up an oddly menacing female whose bent toward wrecking lives has a hidden rationale. This time, however, it's a little hard to believe that the villainess' nastiness isn't obvious to one and all right from the start. She's golden-haired, flute-voiced Lilian, girlhood friend of Maggie Ossian (the narrator) through the 1860s summers at the village of Asherby Cross; and royal-pain Lilian always gets her way in everything: through a dramatic exploitation of her asthmatic ""seizures,"" she succeeds in delaying her widowed mother's marriage; she compels the total adoration of her grandfather, senile Mr. Iredale; and, worst of all, she captures for herself the love of cousin Francis, the man whom Maggie silently adores. But Maggie remains Lilian's faithful friend--even when Lilian's willful and wandering passions contribute to several tragedies: young Agnes Hebworthy and her baby wither and die; Agnes' husband Daniel, besotted with Lilian, hangs himself, and his body disappears; an old woman, dependent on the Iredales, is evicted to die (her grandson returns home from the sea and prison with revenge on his mind). Finally, however, though Francis will marry Lilian, she will die a strange death--which seems somehow linked to the cool presence of Jael Hebworthy, daughter of Agnes and Daniel. An atmospheric tale--with colorful village talk and an ambiance as smooth as country butter. But, despite Gilbert's occasional attempts to shed compassionate psychological light on Lilian's deformity of character (abnormal obsessions are hinted at), she's never a fully convincing Jezebel--and that's a crucial flaw in little period chillers like this one.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1980
ISBN: 1842627287
Publisher: St. Martin's