When a young woman is tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II, she discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection.
Because of the central relationship of Hetty and Lucy, the author has been compared with Sarah Waters. Unfortunately, Healey doesn’t yet have Waters’ ability to evoke the frisson of suppressed desire through tiny gestures, and occasionally the characterisation of Lucy lets her down. Hetty tells us Lucy is increasingly nervy as the situation deteriorates, but that doesn’t tally with the calm way Lucy discusses her nightmares, without any tics or speech patterns to betray her feelings. A few Americanisms seem out of keeping for the British narrators (snuck, shucked, the confusion of purposefully and purposely). And, if Lucy’s father is a baron (his rank is never made clear), she should be the Hon. Miss Lockwood, rather than Lady Lucy ... However, the climax is well done (though I found the central quarrel between the protagonists slightly underpowered), and the characterisation of Hetty is sound, though some minor characters are more one-dimensional. But Healey shows promise of producing something even more atmospheric in future.
While Healey stretches the plot to the snapping point, her gothic novel ticks the most important box: eerie atmosphere. Although some of the main players in the 'mammal collection' aren’t actually mammals, namely the hummingbirds, Healey excels at creating disquiet through descriptions of crushed feathers, disintegrating fur, teeth shining in the half-light, and the living creatures that prey upon the taxidermied animals: mice gnawing, insects scrabbling in sawdust innards. Billed for fans of Kate Morton, Healey’s novel will offer a satisfying scratch for those with an itch for a gothic read.
Alternating chapters told from Lucy’s point of view supply the backstory of this gothic tale of hauntings, secrets, and madness—a creative device that adds tension and suspense. Atmospheric details of the manor make it a central character ... Recommended for fans of Lauren A. Forry, Sarah Perry, and gothic suspense.