In Curtis’ (Mind Games, 2018, etc.) supernatural thriller, an au pair takes care of a tween who may be haunted by a dark spirit.
After Connecticut caregiver Maloney “Molly” Allworth is jobless for two weeks, she accepts a remote position at a home in Maine. She’ll be the au pair and tutor for 14-year-old Hailey Prescott and 12-year-old Liza Prescott. Molly has never worked as a live-in employee, but the job comes with an exceptional salary, as well as a $10,000 bonus if she can get the mute Liza to start talking again. Molly hopes that the money will allow her younger sister, Ali, to apply to medical school. But Molly’s employer (and Liza’s dad) Nathaniel Prescott seems certain that she won’t stay long. Previous au pairs had quickly quit, and Hailey insists that at least one of the women went “bonkers.” Hailey’s mom, Jennifer—the widow of Nathaniel’s brother—lives in the house, too, but she isn’t very welcoming. Still, Molly is determined to help Liza. The girl lost her mother two years ago and, before she stopped speaking, she’d claimed that she’d spoken to her mom’s ghost. Nathaniel doesn’t want to encourage discussion of spirits, but Molly suspects that there may really be something otherworldly in the home. She hears creepy noises at night and witnesses strange sights; meanwhile, unexplained accidents around the property suggest a menacing presence. Molly and Liza, along with a helpful but skeptical Nathaniel, delve into Prescott family history to find out whose specter might be posing a threat to everyone in the house.
Curtis’ novel is first and foremost a drama, but it excels as a suspense tale. The author meticulously establishes the relationship between Molly and Liza, and shows why the caregiver relates so well to her charge; Molly lost her own mother to cancer seven years earlier, and someone murdered her father when she was around Liza’s age. It’s quickly evident that the selfless protagonist genuinely cares for the little girl. Liza is also sympathetic, for the most part, although her reason for remaining close-mouthed is oddly vague and unconvincing. Curtis wisely contrasts her with the rather abrasive Hailey and her sometimes-cold mother, who both become obstacles to Molly’s investigation. The author has previously written romance novels, but the romance in this book is shrewdly understated. Nathaniel ultimately warms up to Molly, but she gets just as much attention from Jennifer’s visiting lawyer brother, Matt Brahms. Later, Curtis shows her skill at horror with a few unsettling sequences; while investigating the darkened house at night, Molly feels “a tendril of frigid air” around her ankle and hears the sound of someone—or something—“shifting their weight from foot to foot.” Later scenes involve Molly trying to find a psychic who might be able to help her. This results in prolonged but riveting sequences as the protagonist sifts through charlatans who clearly wouldn’t be able to handle a genuine phantom.
An unnerving ghost story that’s grounded by persuasive characters and stirring melodrama.