I was looking for good historical fiction and ran across this novel, which is also a mystery and romance. It’s a little different from much of what I read, and reminds me a bit of Victoria Holt, whose work I read voraciously as a teenager and younger woman. I received the DRC courtesy of Net Galley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. This title will be available to the public April 19, 2016.
Calista Langley is a spinster, which is what unmarried women were called a century ago. She runs salons in her home for the purpose of intellectual discussion, a chance for men and women to get to know one another in a socially acceptable setting before they commence the courting ritual. But Langley has a stalker. A man has been using a long-disused dumbwaiter to hoist himself up to her bedroom, where he can watch her in the shadows. He leaves grim mementos mori—associated with death—on her pillow for her to find. Her initials are etched in them, a particularly chilling detail. We know fairly early who it is that is doing this, but Calista herself does not know.
“This is what it had come to—a life lived on the razor edge of fear. The sense of being watched all the time and the ghastly gifts were playing havoc with her nerves…Her intuition was screaming at her, warning her that whoever was sending her the gifts was growing more obsessed and more dangerous with each passing day. But how did one fight a demon that lurked in the shadows?”
At about the same time, Trent Hastings has come to see her, convinced that she is corrupting his sister Eudora, a client and frequent guest at the salons held in Calista’s home.
The overall tone of the story is a trifle melodramatic for my taste right now, but if you had given me this book thirty or thirty-five years ago, I would have worn it out re-reading it and then passed it on to my friends. The romantic scenes are steamy yet tasteful . Quick can raise our interest to a higher level just building up to a kiss than many of the writers of erotica are able to do with everyone’s clothes on the ground and explicit information left, right, and center.
In fact, though I often make a point of letting my readers know when a book will be objectionable to conservative Christian readers, in this case I feel confident in saying you should be fine here. The language never gets hotter than an occasional “damnation!”
One thing that was especially interesting to me was the minute detail given to Victorian funeral customs and the odd accessories that were popular then. It never occurred to me, for example, that anyone would spend good money on a tear-catcher, but some folks did. For the more practical purchasers, the coffin bell is a handy way to let everyone know that you’re not dead after all, and would like out of this box, please!
All told, this was a fun, accessible read. I rate it 4 stars as a YA novel, and 3.5 stars rounded up for general audiences.