The Poisoned House

Another ARC.  This time, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford.

Abigail Tamper is a young lady who is a servant in a Lord’s household and the year is 1855.  She is terrorized by Mrs. Cotton, the housekeeper/sister-in-law to the master of the house.  Lord Greave is somewhat of a recluse, waiting for his son Samuel to return from war.  Just about the time the household hears Samuel will be returning, the activities of a ghost pick up.  Abi soon learns that it’s her mother’s ghost haunting the house, trying to tell her something.

We have an interesting cast of characters (just listing the major ones here).  Lizzy, the other young lady in the house is also terrorized by Mrs. Cotton, but she has a budding romance with one of Samuel’s footman.  Cook likes her gin and isn’t unkind but she’s not exactly an ally for Abi though either.  Mr. Lock, the butler, seems the most kind of the staff but he also knows his place as staff and doesn’t dare go against the wishes of Cotton.  Lord Greave is described in the synopsis as “going mad” but even before we figure out what is really bothering him, I wouldn’t say he’s going mad.  Depressed and extraordinarily sad or grieving (what, one must speculate at first), but not mad.  We don’t really see enough of him to get to know him.  Finally, there’s Samuel.  He and Abi have some sort of bond.  She call’s him Sammy and he seems to have a soft spot for her.  But, all is not as it seems.

The “prologue” or the introduction (or what ever that page is) explains that the books is a transcription of some pages that were found in Greave Manor.  It was a nice set up – set the when and where well,  Also gave the hint that what we would see would be really spooky.  And the first chapter, where Abi tries to run away, but Cotton won’t let her is one of the best chapters in the whole book.  But the spookyiness isn’t really lived up to.  There are a number of incidents – hand prints, ripped scarves, a medium who speaks to Abi…  but I was hoping for spookier.

The story was a good one.  And it had the hint of scandal.  But a few things are bothering me.  Why was Mrs Cotton being haunted by Abi’s mother?  I am still not sure I follow that.  Cotton thinks it might be her dead sister, but we learn early on that it’s not the case.  But we don’t really get why.  And, Since Cotton knows the truth about Abi, I don’t understand why Cotton is so horrible to Abi.  In a number of ways Cotton was so horrible that it was really easy to see that she was a misdirection and she wouldn’t turn out to be the killer.  Also, there were moments when the language – the dialogue – had hints of being right for the time period.  And then there were chapters where the characters spoke differently.  It wasn’t an enormous difference, but the subtle inconsistencies in dialogue nagged at me throughout.  The scene where Abi sees Adam in the park after… well… after the household is visited by the solicitors to discuss the disposition of the estate, is missing a purpose.  I know in the obituary we get at the end it is sort of explained, but some better tie-in, so it didn’t feel so out of place, would have been nice.  Why would Abi’s mom’s ghost burn the book?  Finally, the hints and red herrings were obvious enough that I managed to unravel the truth well before the characters did.

Criticisms aside, it was an enjoyable story and Abigail was a likable character.  The relationship between Lizzie and Abi, and the turn that Lizzie’s relationship with Henry takes, was one of the few things that wasn’t expected and gave some good depth to Abi’s emotions.  I like the final reveal (even though I had already well before that guessed it) and what we learn happened to most of the characters.  The story and action moved quick enough that I felt the urge to continue reading, even after bed time.  It was a quick read and I would recommend this to those who like ghost stories.

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