Having briefly met Ned Gillespie at an exhibition in London, Harriet professes herself surprised to find his work displayed at the International Expo in Glasgow. And there the matter might have stayed if not for the fact that Harriet is fortuitously passing by as Elspeth Gillespie (Ned's mother) faints and swallows her dentures causing an airway obstruction. Harriet saves Elspeth's life and gains entry into the Gillespie family circle. She presents herself as helpful and caring and much appreciated by the family, weighing in on the issues facing them, Ned and Annie's eldest daughter Sibyl's deviant and disturbing mental state, Ned's sister Mabel's love life, the solution to his brother Kenneth's potentially embarrassing homosexuality, and so forth. She ingratiates herself into the family like a tick on a dog.
Alternating her past and the growing connection with the Gillespies is her present day, set in 1933, some 40 years on from the events she is so keen to record. And yet the events of the past seem to be creeping up on her and driving her present. It is in her present day narration that the real measure of Harriet as a character is fully realized. There is no prevarication, no hidden ulterior motive, just Harriet laid bare, explained in ways she wouldn't want an outsider observer to see. She is starting to be certain that Sarah, her carer, apparently the latest in a long line of home helpers, is malevolent and wishes her harm.
The tale is a well-written one, tense and just a little sinister beneath its facade of gentility and sweetly manufactured noblesse oblige. The plot rises from the domestic to the gripping, suspenseful, and chilling finale of Harriet's dealings with the Gillespies. Everything about the novel is atmospheric, tightly plotted, and minutely, meticulously wrought. The characters, all seen through Harriet's eyes, are barometers for the whole of the tale, well-rounded and dimensional only if they serve Harriet's story as such. Nevertheless, they are a compelling bunch, regardless of her self-serving portrayals, and the reader is drawn raptly into the Scottish Victorian art world and into the deviousness of the mystery. Question everything dear reader, and shiver a bit while you're at it.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.