By Jennifer McMahon; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Helen and Nate Wetherell planned the house of their dreams.
What they built was a house of nightmares.
Middle school teachers — her history, him science — the Wetherells give up their Connecticut condo, their Prius, their savings and an inheritance from Helen’s late father to buy land for their new house near a bog in Hartsboro, VT.
The property even has an aging trailer where they can live while building. But oddly, the table in the trailer “was set for two, plates sticky with fossilized food remains and mouse droppings, an unopened bottle of wine and two dusty but empty glasses in the center of the table.”
It’s not until they meet Olive, 14, and her Aunt Riley, who works in the local salvage yard, that they learn the history of their new property. Olive and Riley tell them about the witch Hattie Breckenridge, whose family once owned the property. She was hung from a large, old tree near the bog and reportedly haunts the area. Sometimes she appears as a woman in a white dress; other times as a white doe. Both apparitions draw the unwitting down to the stream-fed bog and their deaths.
The word around Hartsboro is that’s what happened to Edie Decrow, wife of the previous owner, who with her husband lived in the abandoned trailer where the Wetherells now live.
Ironically, what first frightens Helen the most is the natural wild life around the trailer: foxes who scream in the night, porcupines gnawing on the plywood under the trailer.
But as she collects old, historic items to incorporate into the new house, she begins to see things that are most definitely unnatural. Like a clear, talking vision of Hattie, complete with noose around her neck, who appears after the Wetheralls install a beam from the old school house. The beam is believed to have been made from the tree where Hattie was hung.
Then Nate sees a white doe. Despite all the stories, they’ve heard, Nate is convinced the doe is real. His obsession with getting a photograph and finding a scientific explanation for the several albino deer repeatedly seen in the same area over 91 years consumes him.
But while Nate questions Helen’s state of mind as she digs deeper into Hattie’s history and family tree, he is unable to see how his obsession with the doe mirrors her obsession with Hattie.
This is a truly inventive twist on a haunted house story. It has murders, hidden treasure, missing people, ghosts and genealogical research woven together in a contemporary context.
Author Jennifer McMahon juxtaposes events from the nearly 100 years since Hattie’s death with events that take place over the summer of 2015.
This is satisfying read for people who love stories of things that go bump in the night. When you turn the last page, you might want to give McMahon’s THE WINTER PEOPLE a try.
About the Author: Jennifer McMahon (1968 – )
Novelist Jennifer McMahon is known for blending genres — psychological mysteries, horror stories, ghost stories, thrillers, murder mysteries and legends — into suspenseful, imaginative and twisty tales. She pairs the real with the supernatural in hair-raising tales.
While writers are encouraged to write what they know, McMahon says her personal mantra is to “write what scares you.”
She studied poetry at Vermont College and is a graduate of Goddard College.
Since publishing her first novel, PROMISE NOT TO TELL, in 2007, she has published an additional nine novels, including THE WINTER PEOPLE (2014), THE DROWNING KIND (April 2021), BURNTOWN (2017) and THE NIGHT SISTER (2015).
She has a civil union with her partner, Drea. They live in Montpelier, VT, in a “creepy old Victorian on a hill,” with their daughter Zella.
Wow, interesting author, too. It’s good to be Invited!