A long-dead family haunts a ramshackle cottage, the new home of grieving Mary and Graham Coles.
Despite the dark presences, Mary is drawn to the house. Far away from London, the cottage offers her a refuge from well-meaning friends and unexpected reminders of her recently deceased daughters. (We don't find out what happened to those daughters until well into the book.) Graham hopes the move will pull Mary out of her numb despair. Ghostly steps creak, doors slam, and a strange red-haired young man appears outside one moment only to disappear the next. Rather than being alarmed, Mary welcomes the hauntings. Myerson intertwines Mary’s further descent into grief with the tale of the family who inhabited the cottage 150 years earlier. After a violent storm, they found a red-haired young man beneath a massive tree uprooted in the yard. Thirteen-year-old Eliza immediately distrusts him, but her six younger siblings soon adore the mysterious James Dix. Four-year-old Lottie has her doubts, but then Lottie also believes she was once a dog; that she was once dead; that a woman named Merricales, wearing trousers, haunts the kitchen; that Merricales is mourning the horrible deaths of her two daughters. A poisonous creature, indeed, James nonetheless worms his way into Eliza’s heart, with devastating consequences. More than a century later, Mary finds herself the object of her neighbor Eddie’s attentions. Eddie, very solicitous and rather married, is eager to talk about Mary’s girls, which is a relief to Mary but a betrayal as far as Graham is concerned. Myerson (The Quickening, 2013, etc.) twines a delightfully twisted tale, exposing the dark underbelly of love and the gaping, raw wounds of grief. She deftly holds back secrets, doling them out carefully, as if the reader, too, can only face so much horror at a time.
By turns terrifying and heartbreaking; an enthralling spine-chiller.