By Rhiannon Ward
There are so many reasons why Louisa Drew should refuse the last-minute commission to photograph objects going up for auction at an estate near Brighton.
But the the truth is, six weeks away from giving birth, Louisa needs the money. Her second husband’s job barely feeds and houses them.
With almost no hesitation, Louisa accepts the job.
She soon learns that Clewer Hall has a reputation. Once filled with parties and country weekends hosted by Col. Felix Clewer and his society wife Helene, the house became notorious in 1896.
Mrs. Clewer brought in a medium, Mrs. Ada Walker, to do a séance. Guests at the event included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, well-known for his interest in spiritualism and the paranormal, and a journalist who reported on the evening’s events in detail. But the stunner of the event was when Mrs. Walker, speaking as a spirit from beyond, pronounces that all the sons of the house will die.
A charlatan she may seem, but the arrival of World War I made her tragic prediction come true.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Clewer Hall is shadowed by grief and falling into ruin. The colonel has nearly exhausted his funds acquiring strange objects. Bad investments have depleted his savings. He’s decided to put his collections up for auction, sell the house and move to India. The colonel has fond memories of his early Army years in India. Helen is tied to Clewer House, drifting among her memories of lost children. Their daughter Lily sees India as a lonely life sentence caring for her aging parents.
Louisa arrives at Clewer Hall with her own ghosts. Her beloved first husband, Bertie, was killed in the Great War. Then her seven-year-old twins died of influenza, followed by her mother of cancer. She married a second time hoping to recapture the security and companionship of her first marriage. Instead, she finds herself tied to a gloomy, war-troubled husband in a stifling marriage.
Louisa has a week to photograph the collections and the house for the auction house. She finds Mrs. Walker is a guest and Helene’s nearly constant companion. Preparations are underway for a repeat of the 1896 séance — complete with Conan-Doyle and the son of the late journalist.
Louisa finds herself in a reality that isn’t quite normal. Perhaps it’s her pregnancy that makes her feel nauseous. She hears echoes of piano music and a woman singing. Her head feels as if it were being pushed under water. The only person she has a connection with is the journalist’s son, George Storey, now a journalist himself.
This is a fine and startling ghost story. Louisa is spunky and brave with good intuition about other people. Her pregnancy makes her both more vulnerable and potentially unreliable, adding to the suspense. Clewer Hall is a cursed house that is not exorcised when Louisa, George and the Clewers leave.
This book has a similar feel as Ruth Ware’s THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY
. But Louisa is a much more confident — and interesting — protagonist.
Author Sarah Rhiannon Ward has managed to stay true to the 1925 setting while creating a modern story with an empowering theme.
About the Author: Sarah Rhiannon Ward
British author Sarah Rhiannon Ward writes the DC Childs crime series set in Derbyshire Peak District as Sarah Ward and published the 2020 gothic thriller THE QUICKENING as Rhiannon Ward.
Her Derbyshire Peak District mysteries include IN BITTER CHILL, A DEADLY THAW, A PATIENT FURY and THE SHROUDED PATH.
In addition to writing, she teaches crime fiction workshops, does manuscript critiques and editing, chairs book events and gives talks to reading groups. She was one of the inaugural judges for The Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel. She reviews crime fiction on her blog Crimepieces, as well as publications such as