Hall picks up where Charlotte Brontë left off with a tale of murder, jealousy, class and forbidden love.
Hall follows the themes and motifs of the classic Gothic novel almost as meticulously as she weaves 19th century historical anecdotes into the plot. Both techniques serve to create a refreshing, exciting story in which the young, virtuous heroine, Lillie Lorimer, travels to America to seek refuge with an estranged relative following the death of her father and sole benefactor. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes again, and she is forced to seek her own means of supporting herself in the bustling, tenement-laden streets of New York City. As luck would have it, a job practically falls into Lillie’s lap, and all seems not lost. Yet her new job as governess to the children of devastatingly rich and handsome railroad magnate Jay Caldwell may not be such a dream. At Clifftop Manor, situated on the picturesque Long Island Sound, she has much to worry about, namely her dangerous attraction to her employer, shady figures traveling through secret tunnels and passages and the growing envy of Caldwell’s irrational wife. Though the plot seems byzantine in structure, it unfolds with great care and precision, solving mysteries as it creates new ones. Each chapter bounds well off the next and creates playful suspense. The juxtaposition of poverty and opulence in chapters one and two is especially artful, as it establishes the urban setting while building a tension that lasts throughout the novel. The book’s weakness lies with its protagonist; though it may have been the author’s intention to create a kind of 19th century everywoman that other women can relate to, it leaves Lillie without a distinctive voice. Luckily, the plot itself is grand and turbulent enough to carry the novel on its own.
High marks for adventure and romance in this Gothic historical thriller; a novel to make you swoon on a dark and stormy night.