A scullery maid, a great house, whispered evil and a ghost populate this first-person tale of mid-19th-century London.
Abigail’s mother died a year ago of cholera, and the 14-year-old girl misses her fiercely; Mrs. Cotton, Lord Greaves’ sister-in-law, is cruel to the staff—Abi in particular—in every possible way. Her mother was servant and nursemaid to Sam, who is now back, injured, from the Crimean War, and Abi hopes the return of Sam will both cheer the ailing Lord Greaves and protect her from Mrs. Cotton. But strange happenings pervade Greave Hall: Keys go missing; filthy handprints appear; unidentifiable noises are heard. Mrs. Cotton finds a way to blame Abi for most of it. Abi must try to puzzle out questions of her mother’s demise and other questions about their place in the household. Abigail’s fellow servant Lizzie, Lizzie’s banishment and the coal boy Adam figure in the story, as does a compliant Ouija board, which leads to a climatic confrontation and another death. Ford suddenly turns a sympathetic character evil without foreshadowing, which may strike readers as unfair, and the conclusion happens rather abruptly, but he ties up the tale very nicely by ending with Abigail’s full obituary of many decades later.
In all, scary, compelling and atmospheric enough for a satisfying chill. (Ghost story. 12 & up)