A woman seeking solitude finds much more than she bargained for—maybe even a ghost or two—on a windswept Scottish island.
Connecticut artist Zoe Adams, fleeing a failing marriage, has rented the remote, recently renovated 19th-century McBride mansion in Scotland for a month. She’s eager to settle in and paint the beautiful landscape just outside her door. Landlords Mick and Kaye are welcoming, but at the pub they also own, elderly local bookseller Charles—who's a bit obsessed with McBride lore—tells her that the house has quite a history, one that Mick would prefer was kept on the down low. Her first night is a doozy: After falling into an exhausted sleep, she dreams of a shadow lover that brings her to new heights of passion and glimpses a dark figure on the beach looking up at the house. Then there’s the persistent singing—a haunting, achingly sad rendition of a song Kaye sang at the bar. Most people would have been out the door and back on a plane home forthwith, but not our intrepid heroine. Zoe blames the strange happenings on fatigue and digs her heels in. Of course, the odd occurrences escalate (do they ever), and she learns from Charles that the McBride history is very strange indeed: It turns out that the man who built the house and his bride, Ailsa, were into the occult, and the circumstances surrounding her death and that of her little boy were suspect. As the danger escalates, it becomes difficult for Zoe to tell the difference between dreams and reality. And, of course, there’s a storm coming. Merritt, who also writes as S.J. Parris (Conspiracy, 2016, etc.), fully immerses readers in her richly imagined setting and hints that there’s much more to the events leading up to Zoe’s trip. The author’s strenuous attempt to counter the unfortunate trope of the hysterical woman is laudable, and Zoe comes to relate to the misunderstood Ailsa. Zoe's flirtation with a much younger schoolteacher named Edward is refreshing, realistic, and very sexy. Merritt certainly knows how to build suspense and dread even if readers of the genre will find a few of the elements familiar.
Oodles of atmosphere largely make up for a bit of predictability in this gothic chiller.