In a dark forest, on a lonely road, in the bleakness of winter, Frances Thorpe sees the strange, illuminated contours of something within the trees.
With this ominous, gothic opening, Harriet Lane’s debut novel invokes the muses of Daphne du Maurier and Ruth Rendell. Frances at first appears to be simply a hardworking, serious, careful sub-editor for a struggling London journal. Alys Kyte is lucky that Frances stumbled upon her car wreck in the middle of the deserted forest; she is lucky that such a compassionate, good listener is with her during her final hours. And at first, Frances does walk away from the melodrama of the crash, returning to her desk to save other writers from grammatical errors. Realizing that Alys was actually the wife of literary giant Laurence Kyte, Frances begins to plot. Slowly, warily—oh, so warily—Frances begins to insinuate herself into the Kyte family. Lane, too, very carefully unfolds Frances’ true character. Each sentence veils as much as it reveals, just as Frances’ actions distract as much as they betray. Frances begins by visiting the entire Kyte family, ostensibly to offer the comfort of Alys’ dying words. After all, Frances was the last person to speak to Alys, and the family is eager to meet the woman who heard the jeweled words drop from Alys’ lips. She moves on to befriending the bereaved daughter, Polly. Rather careless and easily swayed, Polly worries her father, who is grateful, seeing Frances as a good influence and role model. Preternaturally adept at reading emotions and social cues, Frances nimbly navigates around the suspicious son, gossiping socialites, drunken co-workers, a suspicious boss and Laurence Kyte’s own complicated affairs. Frances is audaciously ambitious, leaving the reader both scandalized and dazzled.
Controlled and precise, Lane’s writing bewitches with its undertones of implied meanings and carefully hidden secrets. This is a gem.