Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Hollow House (e-book) by Janis Patterson

The Hollow House is a historical mystery (with a gothic feel) published by Carina Press. It has a word count of approximately 88,000 words.

This one caught my eye when I was browsing Carina Press's mysteries. I loved the cover, and the setting, Denver in 1919, intrigued me, so I bought it. I'm very glad I did. It had its issues, but it was still a really enjoyable book.

The story: Geraldine Brunton's real name isn't Geraldine Brunton, but it will do, as long as it keeps anyone from connecting her with her past life in Boston. She wants to start a new life in Denver, but first she has to find a job. Unfortunately, she has no marketable skills and no references. It seems hopeless, until she stumbles across an ad for a companion to a semi-invalid lady. She takes a chance and applies. To her relief, Mrs. Stubbs, the lady, takes an immediate liking to her and is willing to overlook her lack of references.

Being Mrs. Stubbs' companion is sometimes boring and occasionally stifling, but Geraldine finds herself growing to like her employer. Her position gives her temporary security, but she knows things could change at any moment. This becomes especially apparent when one of the servants turns up dead and Mrs. Stubbs almost dies of what is either an accidental overdose or an attempt to poison her.

This book's biggest failing was that it was predictable. I spent a large chunk of it thinking that surely the most obvious culprits couldn't be the true murderers, but they were. The one surprise was that the total number of villains was slightly greater than I originally thought, but even then I was able to guess who the extra person was before the big reveal.

However, I still very much enjoyed this book. While, sadly, it looks like Patterson hasn't published any other historical mysteries, she has several works published under the name Janis Susan May that are now on my personal wishlist.

Based on the cover, I thought this might end up being one of those atmospheric books where the setting, the house, practically becomes another character. That wasn't the case. However, the story did have a nicely claustrophobic feel to it. Most of it took place inside the house, and Geraldine had a very limited view of what was going on around her. Eula, Mrs. Stubbs' daughter, and Milton, Eula's husband, had active social lives, but Geraldine was very firmly Mrs. Stubbs' employee, and Mrs. Stubbs rarely left her room. As a result, Geraldine was fairly isolated. Even her companion status was isolating – she wasn't part of the family, but she wasn't quite a regular servant either.

Geraldine held herself apart from people emotionally, as well. It took a while for readers to learn the full truth about her past, but there were enough bits and pieces along the way to have some idea of what happened. She had once had a much higher social status – her father was in a position to meet the president, for example – and she had once been married. There were indications that her husband seriously abused her. I should note that the abuse was both physical and sexual, and she has some flashbacks later in the book – I don't recall anything graphic, but it was still horrible.

(While I'm at it: two dogs die in this book. Readers don't get to know either one while they're living, but they were both beloved pets. One was poisoned off-page, and the other was horrifically murdered. I wish book villains could be villainous without killing animals.)

Geraldine lived in fear of anyone finding out about her past, and I suppose her preoccupation with her own secrets could explain why she failed to notice certain things more quickly. For example, I caught on to the poisoned dog's importance much sooner than her. It was a little frustrating how long she took to catch on to some things, or to remember certain details.

Still, I enjoyed the characters, particularly Detective Warren, and I wouldn't say no to a spinoff starring Rhoda. The story kept me hooked the entire way through, and I had fun trying to work out what was going on and what everyone's motivations were. This is one of those cases where the journey was worth it, even if, in the end, a couple of the villains were a little over-the-top. I do wish the ending had been a little less abrupt, though. I'd have liked to see Geraldine talk to Mrs. Stubbs after everything was over and all had been revealed.  

  • Jane Eyre (book) by Charlotte Bronte - Jane's background is completely different from Geraldine's, but she, like Geraldine, ended up working in a house with some serious family secrets.
  • Rebecca (book) by Daphne du Maurier - I haven't read this, so I hope this one isn't completely off base. The premise is different, but it sounds like it has a few similar aspects: family secrets and a heroine who ends up in a household with issues she has no clue about.

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