A hundred years after a frightful murder spree leaves a New England house haunted, an equally haunted woman arrives from the city destined in spite of herself to break the curse—or repeat it.
Her nerves worn to shreds by repeated exposure to child-abuse cases, Detective Leslie Stone snapped one day, shooting the police suspect in the killing of a little girl. Exonerated on murder charges by a temporary insanity plea, she’s just emerging from a mental institution when her contractor husband Greg is invited to the insular town of Wellington to supervise the restoration work on Five Mile House, fallen into disuse and disrepair ever since Eleanor Bly killed six of her seven children and then leapt to her death from an upper window. Greg has never done this sort of work before; his sole qualification is Leslie herself, a double for the fearsome Eleanor Bly. As Leslie settles queasily into a new routine, taking Wellington family attorney Phillip Hogarth as her lover and volunteering three mornings a week at the Wellington Historical Society, she realizes that Eleanor Bly, whose spirit haunts Five Mile House (and, ever more insistently, the narrative) who longs for the rescuer she sees in Leslie, isn’t the only thing disturbing about Wellington. Gwendolyn Garrett, the historical consultant who first sought Greg for the job, is a practicing witch hot on the trail of a cabalistic volume called the Analecta Seriatus; most of the other women in Wellington seem to be members of her coven; and the town’s history is so closely bound up with its most notorious figure that Harry and Diana Wellington plan to refurbish the place as a Witches of Wellington theme park (think Colonial Williamsburg redesigned by Nathaniel Hawthorne).
Novak’s striking debut works up to a climactic frenzy whose deepest revelations aren’t about mysterious Eleanor, but about Leslie and the loyalties she once took for granted. (Author tour)