A daguerreotypist in mourning, hired to transport a cousin’s corpse for an unusual interment, finds himself the reluctant chronicler of a tragic family story in Waldherr’s debut novel.
London, 1850: Following the sudden death of his wife, Robert Highstead has floated grimly between the lands of the living and dead, photographing corpses to earn money and craving visits from her ghost. When distant cousin and well-known poet Hugh de Bonne dies, Robert is given the task of escorting his body back to his estate and interring him beside his wife, Ada, in the glass chapel, a structure Hugh built after her death. Ada’s niece, Isabelle, has lived in the house alone in the years since Ada’s death; she blames Hugh for the tragedy and refuses to allow Robert to fulfill his cousin's wishes. But when Robert is injured and stranded at Weald House, Isabelle decides to tell him Ada’s story, asking him to write it down and publish it. It’s a peculiar and striking tale of love, illness, and loss; Robert wonders, though, how Isabelle could possibly know all these personal details. And why isn’t she featured in the story at all? There is a Scheherazade-like structure to Isabelle’s tale, and the haunting beauty of the love story makes Ada and Hugh come alive as characters. As in many gothic stories, the moldering old house that represents family tragedy is a fitting, creepy backdrop to the mysteries of the past. Waldherr avoids cliché in her rich descriptions and hints of supernatural presence that never cross into melodrama. Additionally, while most gothic tales offer only darkness and tragedy, a surprising amount of light and joy imbues the ending here. Fitting, perhaps, for a novel that uses stained glass as a symbol for heavenly possibility, even in the face of death.
Waldherr writes that “love stories are ghost stories in disguise.” This one, happily, succeeds as both.