My rating: 3 of 5 stars to Lauren A. Forry‘s Abigale Hall, a mystery and suspense novel I received via NetGalley and Skyhorse Publishing as an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you to both for this opportunity, as I enjoyed the book and have posted a review below.
Rebecca, 12, and Eliza, 17, are orphaned sisters in 1940’s London shortly after the end of WWII, their mother dying from the German Blitz and their father committing suicide after several issues post-war. The girls were awarded to their Aunt Bess, who could barely afford to keep herself above water due to a gambling problem. When she can’t take it anymore, Bess sells them to an elderly man in Wales who needs help around his estate. Rebecca seems to suffer from some emotional problems and needs constant supervision, while Eliza was hoping for a proposal from Peter.
Eliza could live on her own, but won’t let her sister be alone; and then they are both forced to leave without any notification to any friends.
When the sisters arrive, they are taken to Mrs. Pollard who runs the estate; however, both girls quickly learn they will be mistreated far worse than they had been by their Aunt Bess. Eliza begins to hear stories about several missing girls over the last 30 years — who once worked at the estate — but vanished under mysterious circumstances. As Eliza looks out for Rebecca, Rebecca begins to grow more sick and is eventually taken away by Mrs. Pollard to the hospital to get better. Eliza finally meets the master, Mr. Brownewell, who comes from a long line of very peculiar men; however, he seems to carry his own tarnish, as the townspeople suspect he killed his fiancee nearly 30 years ago when he thought she was looking at another man in the wrong way.
Eliza tries to keep things status quo as she searches for the answers, but soon discovers she cannot trust anyone. Eliza also begins to hear and see the ghost of Victoria, Mr. Brownewell’s late fiancee, roaming the halls, claiming to have stolen all the missing girls. Meanwhile, Peter realizes that Eliza has been kidnapped and tries to find her, but many people — all caught up in the macabre game being played — stand in his way, nearly killing him a few times. When he finally finds Eliza, he steps right into a trap set by the villain behind the entire Gothic horror. But who is it? And who will survive…
The characters are vivid and intense. And there aren’t a tremendous amount of them, which certainly helps make it a good story. You’ve got Eliza and Rebecca who are the sisters dealing with the situation. Their Aunt Bess plays a role in the send off to Wales. Peter is chasing after Eliza. Peter’s got 3 or 4 people he interacts with on his search. And in Abigale Hall, there are 3 or 4 characters who help run the estate. Plus the ghost or not-so-dead Victoria (you will have to read to find out)!
The estate, Thornecroft, is a beautiful setting but has a ruthless charm about it. Abigale Hall is one of the main rooms / areas, well described, but keeps you guessing whether it’s a good or a bad place to be. The concept of ghosts is used intricately and constantly keeps readers wondering whether or not the characters are loopy or really seeing what they think they are seeing. It helps you stay focused and want to keep reading each chapter to figure it out.
I thought the book was a little longer than it needed to be. It wasn’t repetitive, but at times it felt a little too drawn out. I assume it’s to build the fear factor and the thrill of the chase; however, at times, you want to skim a few sections just to see how far the author was going to take each of the scenes. With a little more editing and focus on key word replacements, I think it could have really put the fear in a few more readers.
All of the characters were just mean. Maybe that’s how it was in the 1940s after the war and in England, but I felt like I just wanted to smack several of them for the way they treated each other; and I’m not even counting the villains in the book. Even the ones who were friends or even just acquaintances felt like they had a bit of a nasty tone about them. It could be totally realistic, but it was a bit of a turn off for me.
At many points in the novel, I kept thinking about the direct comparison to Daphne du Maurier‘s novel Rebecca, and that’s not considering both books have a main character named Rebecca. Both books have sprawling estates with a Gothic haunting ghost; Rebecca has Manderley and Abigale Hall has Plentynunig’s Thornecroft. Both have a very menacing but possibly innocent caretaker. Let’s see a rumble between Mrs. Pollard and Mrs. Danvers!
There are some interesting themes about shoes in this book that made me think of the Wizard of Oz witches… between Dorothy’s shoes and the legs of the witch underneath the home that crashed into Oz, you can’t help but see the comparison when one of the characters in Abigale Hall ends up with a head in the oven and nothing hanging out but a pair of legs.
Plus, both the sisters have trouble with their shoes the entire book. Was a little odd!
Not to mention Hansel and Gretel pushing the witch in the oven. So many re-appropriations of fairy tales could be seen.
I’m glad I read the book, and there were definitely parts full of horror the creepy factor. I was hoping for a bit more macabre, and the end certainly brings some intensity and major crazy… but it should have pushed the envelope a bit more to truly be a horror book. It’s a good read, but I didn’t think “wow, this is an awesome and scary book.” I’d read another one by this author as the writing flowed well and created memorable characters. But give me something even more gruesome next time!
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