After divorcing her abusive husband, Helen Honeycutt is proud of her newfound independence, and marriage to charismatic Emmet Justice is the last thing she wants. A whirlwind romance, however, sets the stage for the naïve bride to confront Emmet’s past.
A rhododendron tunnel leading to a beguiling ancestral home, the strange death of a first wife, an increasingly confused heroine—King’s (Queen of Broken Hearts, 2007, etc.) latest alludes heavily to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. After finding an album filled with photographs of Emmet’s late wife’s home, Moonrise, Helen becomes obsessed with seeing the mansion and its gardens of night-blooming plants. Once ensconced in Rosalyn and Emmet’s former bedroom, however, Helen begins to regret her decision as she hears bumps in the night and spies shadowy figures in turret windows. She is eager to fit into Emmet’s social circle, yet constant reminders of Rosalyn’s elegance make her only more keenly aware of her own shortcomings. The glamorous set includes kindly Linc, who recently suffered a stroke, and his shrewish wife, Myna, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who spends most of her time in New York. Willa, a childhood friend, tends to the properties as well as to Linc’s physical therapy, bonding over lessons in lepidopterology. Tight as lovers, Tansy and Noel are only friends. Lastly, there’s Kit, Rosalyn’s best friend, who likes to needle Helen by obliquely questioning Emmet’s faithfulness. Each chapter shifts perspective, from Helen’s hand-wringing to Tansy’s suspicions to Willa’s struggle to hide the secret of her drunken, abusive boyfriend. These narrative shifts, however, deflect attention from Helen’s mounting fears, deflating du Maurier’s haunting psychological thriller into a predictable tale of romantic obstacles.
The reader may well wonder who is gaslighting Helen, but the Gothic echoes of Manderley and the first Mrs. de Winter set up unfulfilled promises.