Lord Byron's elderly former paramour relives a horrifying mystery from her haunted past.
The year 1873 finds Claire Clairmont living in poverty in Florence with her niece, Paula, waiting only for death. She’s decades removed from her torrid affair with Lord Byron and the idyllic times she spent with her stepsister, Mary Shelley, and Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Byron’s closest friend. Claire is the only survivor of this quartet. The arrival of scholar and art lover William Rossetti offers her a potential lifeline. Rossetti hopes to write a biography of Byron that includes his letters to Claire. On the day of his visit, Claire receives a letter calling into question the circumstances of her young daughter Allegra’s death. Could Mary have been concealing something when she told Claire that Allegra died of typhus at her convent school? Claire’s memories, going back as far as Switzerland in 1816, alternate with her current interactions with Rossetti. The visitors to Switzerland tell ghost stories to entertain themselves on a stormy night and trade opinions about current literature. And Claire, who’s kept her pregnancy a carefully guarded secret, resolves to tell Byron about the child. In Florence, Claire’s spells of sleeping and periods of incoherence grow longer. At length, she agrees to sell her letters to Rossetti, who’s revealed as the duplicitous figure Claire first thought he might be.
Ambrose, author of the Mango Bay mysteries (Coastal Corpse, 2016, etc.), writes in a florid style that suggests romantic thrillers of bygone days. The cliffhanger ending, apparently promising further Claire Clairmont thrillers, may frustrate readers familiar with the historical record or earlier fictionalizations of the heroine’s life.