Amabel Grey is a widow living in a small country village on a limited income. Her daughter, nineteen-year-old Daphne, brought up by Amabel’s much wealthier sister, Agatha, is spoiled to say the least and desperately wants to go on a trip to Egypt with some friends (mostly so that a rich young man she knows will propose to her). This requires Amabel to spend £200, money she does not have. Still, since Daphne is throwing tantrums (no better way to describe it) and shedding what seem to be crocodile tears, Amabel heads off to her lawyer Mr Berry to see if anything can be done. (She can’t borrow the money since she has no means to pay it back.) There she overhears George Forsham, a man she used to know years ago, asking Mr Berry to find him a tenant for the Dower House in his family home, in which he is unable to keep a tenant since it is supposed to be haunted. Of course he is going to pay £200 (just the sum she needs) to anyone who will live there for six months (with a number of odd conditions). Despite being dissuaded by Mr Berry, Amabel who has stayed at Forsham as a young girl, takes up the offer and heads there. At Forsham she also runs into George’s brother Julian who she was in love with at one time. And there is certainly something wrong with the house with plenty of odd (and rather unsettling) happenings. Julian is keen to investigate, and Amabel to hold her ground and keep up her end of the bargain. This, though not a murder mystery, was such a fun read, I enjoyed every bit of it.
A few days ago after finishing my last book, I wasn’t sure what to pick up next, didn’t ‘feel’ like reading any of the physical books I had with me; so glanced through what I had on Kindle, and this one caught my eye. I opened it up and began reading and within minutes, it had me hooked, and in fact excited to get back to it each time I had to put it down. The book had the typical atmosphere of a creepy haunted house (the kind we see in films sometimes)—all the quintessential elements like thuds on the front door at night, doors mysteriously closing (no matter how many times they are opened and left open), mewing cats, sinister laughter, and even the feeling of being followed when out on the stairs at night. Amabel’s own dog runs away the very first day, and is found back at her old home. Another dog which Julian borrows for security does the same (heading to his own home). Amabel’s own maid is too scared to stay on. One knows of course, that it won’t be a real ghost but still I thought Wentworth did the entire atmosphere really well, even if it was typical. There are other aspects too—like a medium (clearly putting on an act—we are pretty much told that at once), and the story of a girl (one of George and Julian’s former nurse’s twin daughters) who had run away years ago, and who might well be among the newer residents in the village—connected with the main plot but one doesn’t know exactly how. The solution itself was perhaps a little on the lines of a children’s mystery (Enid Blyton or one of the older Nancy Drews) but still good fun. (This was something I felt in the Miss Silver book I’d read earlier as well.)
The characters were for the most part fairly likeable: Amabel showed spirit in wanting to stick it out rather than running away though she didn’t seem to want to get to the bottom of things. I liked that she didn’t behave like the typical damsel in distress waiting to be rescued (both in terms of wanting to earn the money herself, and staying her ground), but I felt she was rather foolish in heading downstairs and opening the door almost every night when she knew from previous experience what would happen—why not just stay in her room and lock the door? Daphne, her daughter, was a real brat, though. The other characters in the village are a mix of suspicious and a couple of friendly ones (people Amabel had known before). There are also characters from other Wentworth books like Jane (Smith) March, Molloy, and Police Chief Sir Julian Le Mesurier (‘Piggy’) who make an appearance, but not having read those books, these were not familiar to me. The romance in the story I thought was refreshing being between older people getting another chance, rather than a typical one.
I had only read a Miss Silver mystery before, none of her standalones so didn’t know what to expect when picking this up, but it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Will certainly be reading more of hers soon.