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Like Cave's Blood Bond, this wily, Edwardian-to-Twenties chiller has a seductive period ambiance, with murder only one of the sins committed by a nasty crew of predator/victims. In 1909 little orphan Henrietta arrives at the hostile aristocratic digs of dim Uncle Harry--where dreadful cousin Julia, a little beauty, administers painful pinches and names Henrietta ""Hitty Pitty"" (from a prophetic nursery riddle about a nettle which can ""bite you""). Seldom home are twin cousins: stupid Henry; and brooding, would-be poet/painter Edmund, whom Henrietta adores. So, when Edmund is wounded in the war and returns home to die, Henrietta declares her love. . . and is shattered when he actually recoils from her kisses. Yet: ""Perhaps by deceiving him she might even make him change his mind and love her."" Thus, Henrietta pretends to be content as ""only friends""--and at the night of her debut ball, she's seduced by Henry (a pleasurable bewilderment), but then ignored! No wonder, then, that Henrietta soon starts getting her own back. When Edmund dies, she holds onto his private journal full of dirty family secrets--which she was supposed to burn. When flighty-flapper cousin Julia marries a monied toff, Henrietta escapes the stifling household too--with a loveless marriage to fatuous, tightfisted journalist Adrian--but resumes the Henry affair. And when Henry plans marriage, the plans are spoiled by Henrietta--who acts even more ruthlessly when Julia seduces a thrilled Adrian. (Their bodies will be found in a Sussex cottage.) So finally Henrietta gets Henry, the estate, a string of lovers. . . and yet one more chance to murder. Credible? Not quite. Serious? Not really. Still: a classy psycho-portrait with a sneaky wallop.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's