A young English boy living in an old house with his housekeeper begins to suspect that she may have murdered his mother.
In Giles’ debut novel for adults, he poses a psychological puzzle with its roots in Du Maurier and other gothic fiction. Samuel Clay runs home from school every day, excited to see whether he’s received a new postcard from his mother. She has traveled from Cornwall to America, where she was born, to try to raise money—as he’s only 9, Samuel is hazy on the details—after the death of Samuel’s father left them struggling. So Samuel is staying with Ruth, the faithful housekeeper. They have a rather complicated relationship; Ruth keeps Samuel fed and clothed, and she’s trying to make ends meet, but she’s also abusive to the boy at times. For his part, Samuel seems somewhat afraid of Ruth, though he also goes out of his way to defy her sometimes. When his best friend tells him a story about a housekeeper who murdered an entire family and stashed their bodies in the cellar, something clicks, and Samuel becomes certain that Ruth murdered his mother. He begins to search for evidence of her crime, earning her wrath in the process. But at the same time, he begins to remember certain things about his mother that may explain her extended absence. Giles creates a mystery rife with slowly unspooling tension; the fact that most of the novel centers on Samuel means that his childish perspective gives adult readers the opportunity to read between the lines and interpret the truth of situations that the boy doesn’t fully understand. In the end, the mystery is not as layered or complex as it could have been, because of this same perspective, but Giles succeeds in crafting a surprising climax.
Subtle and haunting.