In a North Carolina mountain hamlet, the renovation of a crumbling mansion reveals unsettling secrets.
Paxton Osgood, pampered daughter of one of Walls of Water, N.C.’s, wealthiest families, is planning a gala to mark the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Society Club, founded by her grandmother Agatha. The invitations go awry due to a freak storm, which is a harbinger that dark forces still lurk at the gala site, the Blue Ridge Madam manor, once owned by lumber barons, the Jacksons, who lost their money when their logging grounds were turned into a national forest. The house, deemed haunted, was abandoned for decades until salvaged by the Osgoods, who plan on converting it to a bed and breakfast. Paxton’s brother Colin has returned from his world travels to landscape the grounds, but when a gnarled peach tree is uprooted to make way for a statelier transplant tree, a skull is found in the crater. Local shopkeeper Willa Jackson, whose grandmother Georgie was 17 when the Jacksons fell from grace, declines her invitation to the gala—her ancestral memories have made her hostile to Walls of Water’s affluent residents, and too many people recall that, in high school, she was a prankster whose antics were blamed on Colin. The skull undoubtedly belonged to Tucker Devlin, a charismatic, need we say devilish grifter who came to town in 1936, instantly captivating all resident females with predictably dire results. Devlin concentrated his blandishments on the Jacksons, persuading them to invest their last dollars in an ill-advised peach orchard at an altitude unconducive to fruit. Georgie now occupies the same nursing home as her former best friend Agatha, but only Agatha is still of sound mind: She reveals that she formed the Women's Society Club not for philanthropic purposes but to reckon with Tucker. Discordant notes of magic realism at times distract from what is essentially a benign tale of spunky Southern women finding true love after overcoming not-very-significant challenges.