Setting: Modern Day
THE SHRILL RINGING OF THE PHONE...
shattered the peaceful sun-drenched afternoon.
The voice was the voice of a stranger. "Am I speaking to Mrs. Simpson?"
"Yes," said Ella tersely. "I am Mrs. Simpson."
"The very lady I want. Just a word of advice, love. Drive carefully."
The caller hung up abruptly.
Not that Ella would have wanted to talk to him. She hated the sound of his voice. Very vulgar. But why was he calling her all the time? Warning her? About lots of things. Even about her small daughter, Kitty.
"Do you know where Kitty is?" the voice threatened.
Her husband didn't believe a word of it. Told her she was imagining things. That she was loony.
He also didn't believe about the old, empty house she and Kitty had stumbled upon a few afternoons ago.
But she had seen the house. And so had Kitty. And now that she thought about it she realized that all her troubles had begun with the visit to that house.
There was something dark and evil about the place. Something terrible. But what? And who would believe her even if she did find out?
On a leisurely afternoon walk one summer day Ella and her five-year-old daughter come upon an abandoned house with an eerie overgrown garden. For the attractive young housewife and her imaginative child, the old house conjures up fantasies of grand parties and bygone fashions. But in the midst of the reverie they hear a horrible, throaty scream and, from a second-story window, see the spreading white wings of an owl taking flight.
At home that evening, Ella describes the experience to her husband, Max, only to be reminded that, having recently lost a child at birth, she is still emotionally unstable. Later, pointing out her strange lapses of memory, he insists that she needs more quiet and rest. Ella reluctantly agrees with him and all but forgets the experience, even though she feels it is somehow connected with the sudden disappearance of a woman in the neighborhood.
Then she begins receiving a series of anonymous phone calls. Trapped between the cold neglect of her husband, who openly questions her sanity, and the increasing terror of the calls, which hint that her child is in danger, Ella herself comes to question her own sanity...
Setting: A safe, boring house in the suburbs where the family resides.
Plot: Ella (stay-at-home housewife and mother to five-year-old kitty) and kitty take a long walk one hot summer day and discover a beautiful old abandoned Victorian house. Though the house has been neglected and is falling apart, they fall in love with it's extravagant ballroom and the over-grown garden of wildflowers. Though a screeching own horrifies them both momentarily, they vow to visit the old house and it's imaginary family again. Yet, as Ella walks away she gets a peculiar feeling of danger, as if footsteps are following them. As her fascination for the house grows a succession of prank phone calls and warnings of danger begin, yet her own husband tries to convince her she's gone mad. Suddenly the news story of the kidnapping of a local woman takes center stage in this bizarre mystery.
Gothic Elements: A gossiping house-keeper & gardener. An old ramshackle Victorian house. Footsteps. A kidnapping. Murder. Prank phone calls. Ominous threats to one's life and family. The heroine being victimized and brainwashed. A sensitive, quiet writer as the hero. An disloyal husband.
Romance: There's not much romance inside this book. The marriage of the main character is compromised. However, toward the end there are overtones of romance that may blossom between the heroine and her neighbor, who is also a bit of the hero in the story.
I really enjoyed this book. I totally found myself immersed in the summery atmosphere, particularly where the old Victorian house is concerned. I love the descriptions of it's empty rooms, the imaginary family that Ella and Kitty concoct for it, and the creepy talk of footsteps on the overgrown garden full of wildflower. All the talk of summer, flowers, and the weather really gets one in the mood for some hot weather.
I felt the mystery was rather engaging, although the telephone calls get a bit redundant.
The characters in this story were pretty well fleshed out. I empathized with Ella and despised her cold-hearted husband.
Overall, it's not the best mystery book out there but it is a fun, relaxing, interesting read of the vintage gothic genre.
Alternate Cover Art