A ghost story within a ghost story, unique plot. An overprotective mother who adamantly would not talk of her family but did tell her son stories about a home she loved in England, Staplefield. Gerard was forced to come home directly school was over, his mother said she “had to keep him safe” without ever explaining why, and who “they” were who she so feared that it ruled her life.
Gerard eventually joins a Penfriend group through the school and receives a letter from a girl in England no much older than himself, although she is crippled and in a hospital they keep up a lifelong exchange. His mother is furious that he has a penfriend in England, somehow “they” might find them. It was about this time when the first letter arrived that his mother no longer told any stories of Staplefield, nor any hint of family. In fact, if his father hadn’t intervened and insisted that she allow him to receive his letters and read them for himself, he would never have had the opportunity to make a friend through Penfriends.
There are many mysteries in this book. Stories within stories to keep the excitement level up. Just when you feel you are getting to know about the relationship between Gerard & his mother and Gerard & his Penfriend Alice Kessell, He discovers a new story hidden away that taxes his feelings toward his mother and the people he reads about. The stories are written by the person he believes to be his grandmother Viola (or so he was told). With each new story and each new piece of information, Gerard struggles to sort out who these people really are, who his mother was (this after his mother’s death), who relates to him, and he sees his chance first with Alice, a true ghost writer, and later with an ad placed in the English paper to which he receives a message. He soon finds everything he knows about his life falling to pieces through lies, secrets, name changes, and ghosts.
The unexpected discovery of every letter he has written to Alice, found among stored papers, directly influences everything he does from this point on. By the description, these letters sent by email run through several decades. This is a fascinating plot line, all three or more plot lines in fact. Strange repetitions come down through the centuries, connections, murder, mystery, and much more. John Harwood knows how to write a story to captivate his readers. This was my first read of his books, but I am definitely read more of his novels in the near future. The story does tend to jump from past to present without a lot of warning, but persevere, it is definitely worth it. Now here’s a teaser, who actually died and when. This book is a dollop of horror, sprinkled liberally with secrets, and built on a foundation that quickly crumbles.