Author: Anna Romer
Simon & Schuster Australia RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
When you’re all that stands between the murderous past and the fate of those you love, how far would you go to save them?
A gothic-style story where the past and present collide, an old house containing secrets, … if, like me, you love immersing yourself in stories with those elements, then Thornwood House is not a book to look past. I love the cover – scratchy, rustic vintage effects reinforcing the idea of memories. Reading the blurb was enough to make me want to read the book; reading others’ reviews made me want to read it NOW.
Living with her young daughter in the city, Audrey Kepler has long learnt to guard her heart. Long ago, she gave it to Bronwyn’s father, Tony; when that didn’t work out, she threw herself into raising Bronwyn, trying to ensure her daughter had the stability she never had. After Tony’s sudden death, Audrey learns that she’s inherited Tony’s childhood home, an abandoned homestead in rural Queensland. With Bronywn’s encouragement, she decides to make a fresh start and the two move into the homestead, each with dreams of a different kind of life.
In a dusty back room of the old house, she discovers the crumbling photo of a handsome World War Two medic – Samuel Riordan, the homestead’s former occupant and Tony’s grandfather. There’s something about Samuel that gives her the niggling sense she knows him. Is it because of Tony? No, they look very different? Audrey can’t explain it – and her sleep-deprived mind is going haywire – but she just knows there’s a connection of sorts. When the photograph frame breaks, Audrey finds a letter tucked in behind the photo. It’s a long-lost letter to Samuel from his sweetheart, Aylish – the woman Samuel was accused of bashing to death after the war.
As Audrey digs deeper into Samuel’s story, she learns about other unexplained deaths in recent years – one of them was Tony’s sister, Glenda. Obsessed with the idea that Samuel could not have murdered Aylish, Audrey starts asking questions in a quest to uncover what really happened, putting her life (and Bronwyn’s) in danger. Someone now has good reason to want to kill again.
Thornwood House is a story of new beginnings, old memories, closure, obsession, suspicion and even romance. It’s well-written and plotted with some memorable characters. Romer deftly cast suspicion on a number of characters and whenever I thought I had the mystery figured out, I realised I was wrong. I liked that my mind was churning with possibilities as I read: “What if this … what if that?” Hardly anyone (except Bronwyn) escaped my suspicion.
The hint of romance between Audrey and Danny, who is deaf, was an original touch. These characters had to convey chemistry sans words (except on paper), using sign language and notepads. Both characters have their own obstacles: Audrey wants to belong somewhere but is scared of opening up too much, while Danny is determined not to let his disability hold him back. There’s a lovely moment in which Danny traces letters onto Audrey’s hands (giving her tingles) that was so tender it seemed a privilege to observe.
One other point and then I will let you, the reader, decide whether this is a book for you.
For the first time in my life I had a real anchor, a family; a reason to settle in one place long enough to discover that I liked it. Not just liked it; needed it …
This quote, early in the book relates to Audrey’s relationship with Tony – they moved in, had a child, got a mortgage … Tony gave her an anchor early on. It stuck with me because although Tony ultimately did not stay with Audrey, his death led to her inheriting his old home, giving her an anchor again, somewhere where she could settle and raise their daughter. It almost as if, he was restoring things to rights. Just my thoughts, romantic they may be.
A truly captivating and haunting read, Thornwood House made me dig out one of my favourites, Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), another gothic tale of obsession, secrets … and it made me want to read another book by Anna Romer. Soon.
Available from good bookstores and Simon & Schuster. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: I just ate home-made caramel choc-chip cookies. Bliss.