Apparently, several ghosts walk the lanes around a Somerset pub called the Castle of Comford, and it is these wraiths--as well as the documented fascination they held in the frequently fuddled mind of Samuel Taylor Coleridge--that inspired Phillips (The Rain Maiden--not reviewed) to write this uneven novel. In the summer of 1776 (as the story goes), a Somerset charcoal-burner, Will Walford, meets a luscious lady of ill repute--by the name of Cybele Reynolds--and falls in love. Cybele, who's had a checkered career as a mistress to London gentlemen, is agreeable to marrying Will for the sake of her desire to live in the country. But what a mess of intrigue she stirs up around the village of Stowey. Besides frolicking in the foliage with a local apothecary, she sets her eye on Will's magnetic son, John, and easily manages to snare him--though the lad confesses all to his father when, by chance, he learns about Cybele's secret past. After a brief marital hiatus, however, Will will make it plain to Cybele that he wants her back; and when she returns to Stowey, she manages to come between John and mad Jenny, whom he's about to wed. As it turns out, Jenny's not so mad; in fact, she has a way with spells, which she works to reclaim John (after he's lost a young woman he truly loves). Disaster again strikes once the two are married at last--with John murdering Jenny late one night, and then hanging for his misdeed. Phillips hasn't decided whether she wants to write history or fiction and can't resist inappropriately throwing Coleridge into the story, resulting in a narrative muddle. And the poor ghosts. They certainly haven't been laid to rest.