By Jennifer Fawcett; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
In 1998, four bored, prickly teenaged girls decide to explore an abandoned house several miles outside of their home town, Sumner’s Mills.
The house, hidden by trees, is octagonal. Built more than 60 years earlier, only people who know it can find it. It has a history of murder — more than the girls know.
Inside the dusty, trashed building, an odd industrial metal door separates the basement from the kitchen. When it clicks open, Abby Lindsay sees something and goes down the stairs to check it out. She gets locked in momentarily until her friends — Clare, Monica and Lori — open the door and free her.
Nothing is ever the same for Abby, Lori, Monica and Clare after that.
A decade later, Abby discovers Clare through the internet and asks if Clare saw what she saw under the stairs in the octagon house. Clare doesn’t want to think about that day. She evades and then rejects Abby’s queries.
Soon, Clare begins having nightmares about that day. She can’t sleep. She has a miscarriage. Her marriage dissolves. Her contract to teach isn’t renewed. She’s adrift with little to keep her in Chicago — and less still to pull her back to the dying town of Sumner’s Mills. Even her father has moved away, although he promised her he wouldn’t sell their house until she was ready.
That changes when Abby’s mother contacts her to say that Abby has attempted suicide in the octagon house. After being rescued, and before falling into a coma, she spoke Clare’s name. Would Clare please come and see if she can help bring Abby back to consciousness?
Reluctantly, Clare finds herself back in Sumner’s Mills, and then digging into the history of the house and retracing Abby’s footsteps, trying to identify what — or who — was hidden in the basement.
She meets the dying Benjamin Fischer, who rented the octagonal house for his family, and was accused in 1965 of shooting his wife and two daughters. He was exonerated decades later and released from prison to a nursing home to die of cancer.
Clare also meets Mrs. Janssen, the sister of George Sumner, who built the house in 1936. She has always refused to tear the house down, claiming she was holding it for George, even though he went missing during World War II. Her brother’s fiancee, Alice, and her illegitimate daughter, Grace, disappeared just after the house was finished and just before the couple were to be married.
Author Jennifer Fawcett weaves this story back and forth through time and various characters’ points of view. No single character has the full story. The reader understands all when Clare launches her nearly fatal plan to remove the evil of the octagon house from Sumner’s Mills forever.
As a beach, pool, plane flight read, this book will keep you entertained for hours. It’s a different twist on a haunted house story.
#JeannetteHartman. #jenniferfawcett. #beneaththestairs
The Author: Jennifer Fawcett
After growing up in rural Eastern Ontario, Jennifer Fawcett made theater in Canada before coming to the United States. She earned a master of fine arts degree from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.
Her work has been produced in theaters across the country and published in Third Coast, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Storybrink and in anthologies.
She teaches writing at Skidmore College and lives in update New York with her husband and son.