Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Snow Shadows" by Andre Norton

 Published:  1979
Setting:  Modern Day

...her flashlight swept across a pallid object, which I identified with a shiver.  There was no mistaking the purpose of that upright slab of stone.  Miss Elizabeth had come to a private graveyard.  Now the circle of light flashed up, centered on something Miss Austin held in the other hand.  

Though the wind sighed I was able to catch a few of the words she read- their solemn cadence added to my uneasiness.  The light wavered once more to the ground, skirting a mound covered by a tarpaulin, as Miss Elizabeth knelt.  Her hand come into the path of light, picked up a clod of earth and let it fall with a sullen finality into the dark hole.  Borne by some trick of the wind, her voice was unusually distinct and clear.

"...we commend the soul of our dear sister departed, and we commit her body to the ground..."

Miss Elizabeth was reading the burial service above an empty grave prepared for that afternoon's funeral, which had been so strangely interrupted...

The scrape of a foot on the walk startled me.   Miss Elizabeth!  I wheeled about.  Only moments before I had thought of her with sympathy.  Now I shrank from meeting her face to face.

I grasped the snow-wet back of the bench, sure that in this dark, if I did not move I might escape notice.

But a moment later there came a shrill cry, a scream so eerie that it almost tore an answering shriek from me...

Erica Jansen has returned to Ladensville for the second time.  So far the streets hold only the bitter memories of being jilted by an ex lover and the repressive childhood administered by her caregiver, Aunt Otilda.   Erica is busy with research for a book she's writing so she hopes that will keep her mind occupied.

She finds the hotel dull and uninspiring but, lucky for her, is offered a room at the historical Northanger Abbey.  It's a offer she can't resist, after all, there are many prestigious scholars renting rooms as well as the prestigious position of elderly sisters Miss Emma and Miss Elizabeth, who are rumored to be wealthy collectors of antiques and who insist on existing as living relics of Jane Austen, in full costume and custom.

Though the room is a lovely, and unexpected, convenience, Erica feels uneasy from her first nights stay.  Not only do the family members bicker  constantly, but some of the guests are repressive and secretive, and as if that weren't enough, Erica could have sworn she saw a statue come to life in the pathway between the abbey and the carriage house.

The longer she stays, the more the old house and family secrets become a dangerous entrapment she's unwittingly stepped into. Just as she's ready to announce her leave, there's a sudden death of a relative who was rumored to have already been dead.  Bodies in a coffin are switched, Miss Emma dies from a poisoning, and everyone in the household becomes hostage to a police investigation.

Just when Erica can't surmise things getting any worse, she follows a mysterious presence into the graveyard where it prays for Miss Emma over a makeshift grave and is accosted by none other than Mark, the romantic interest who abandoned her five long years ago.

Mark, who now is an undercover investigator and who promises she'll be safe.  Mark, who wants to make a place in her life now.  But when a kidnapping at the abbey sends them on a wild goose chase into the dead of a winter night, will they survive the fiery, explosive grand finale to the mystery, or will Mark unwillingly leave her once again?

This was an enjoyable read, though sometimes I found myself a bit confused.  The mystery was difficult to follow.  This would have made an excellent mystery for a snowy night, as it was set in the dead of winter.  I couldn't understand the obsession with Jane Austen either.  Really loved the creepy elements:  unmarked graves where visitors prayed over bodies that weren't supposed to be there, the switching of bodies in the coffin, and a family mystery of espionage and betrayal.  I'd recommend to fans of the vintage gothic.

Rating:  3.5

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