A HERITAGE OF SHADOWS by Madeleine Brent


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Hannah MacLeod, the brisk narrator of Brent's latest gothic melodrama, is an 18-year-old ""waiter girl"" in 1890s Montmartre, living in chaste, dignified poverty--and keeping mum (even to the reader) about her shadowy English/French past. Then, in trouble with the local police (though entirely innocent), Hannah must flee--so she reluctantly accepts the position she just recently declined: as French tutor to the two teenage children of rich Hertfordshire widower Sebastian Ryder. And at first everything seems wonderfully comfortable in Hannah's new home; she even has two suitors--her lovesick pupil Gerald Ryder and Andrew Doyle, a rich American whose life was saved by Hannah back in Paris. (Their second meeting in England is just one tidbit in Brent's coincidence-festival.) Furthermore, Hannah's platonic Paris chum Toby Kent, a post-impressionist painter, has finally made it big--so there's a happy London reunion. Doubts and questions keep bugging Hannah, however. How is it that Mr. Ryder seems to know about Hannah's butterfly birthmark? Why did he lure her into that tutor job at great trouble and expense? What about nasty old Sir John Tennant, a Ryder business acquaintance whose name seems strangely familiar to Hannah? And then, during a weekend outing, all the secrets are bared at length: Hannah is Sir John's scorned, illegitimate grandchild, sold into white slavery at age 13; Mr. Ryder, who hates Sir John, has uncovered this scandal--in order to use it as humiliation and blackmail. Hannah, stunned about her unveiled ancestry, nonetheless maintains her quasi-feminist dignity--even when recaling the degradations that have made her ""damaged goods."" Young Gerald is unhinged by the Truth about seemingly pure Hannah; Andrew is noble and open-minded; artist Toby has known Hannah's secret all along; Sir John, evil to the core, has Hannah shanghaied into an insane asylum--from which, after water tortures, she is rescued by Andrew, who proposes marriage. . . with a premarital excursion to his Mexico home-grounds. But, after rescuing Andrew from a Mexican rebel-chieftain (who just happens to be one of her former bordello clients), Hannah winds up with her real Mr. Right. . . bohemian chum Toby. Despite the often-loopy plotting: an above,average Damsel-in-Distresser--with an unusually strong heroine, some Dickensian texture, and tastefully handled Victorian shockers.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday