A Gothic English manor in a remote valley provides the backdrop to this tale of two pregnant women living 40 years apart.
Alice Eveleigh—a well-educated but romantically naïve office worker in 1933 London—has found herself pregnant by a married man. Her mother worries only about what the neighbors will think, so she shuttles Alice off to Fiercombe Manor, the ancient seat of the noble Stanton family, where her mother’s childhood friend, Mrs. Jelphs, is the housekeeper. There, Alice can have her baby, and give it up for adoption, without bothering anyone—or so her mother thinks. Installed at Fiercombe for the duration of an unusually hot summer, Alice grows increasingly curious about the former residents of the house, especially Elizabeth, the beautiful one-time Lady Stanton, and her last pregnancy. What happened to Elizabeth, her daughter, Isabel, and the child she carried, and why was Stanton House, the monstrous modern mansion built to replace Fiercombe, torn down after standing only 10 years? Why does Tom Stanton, the current heir to the estate, feel responsible for his brother’s death 20 years before, and will his guilt affect his budding romance with Alice? “The real ghosts are the ones that take up residence in your mind,” Tom says, which means that everyone at Fiercombe is haunted by something. The stern Mrs. Jelphs can’t keep her secrets forever, though, and little by little, Alice uncovers the fate of Elizabeth and her daughter, a fate that Alice worries she and her own child may share. Despite reaching toward tales like Rebecca and the novels of Sarah Waters, Riordan offers a leaden version of an old story burdened by awkward flashbacks, flat characters, exposition-heavy dialogue, and a drawn-out, uninspired mystery at its heart.
For true gothic thrills and chills, look elsewhere.