by Wendy Webb
Publication Date: March 30, 2010
Genre: Fiction, Suspense
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
When a mysterious letter lands in Hallie James's mailbox, her life is upended. Hallie was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire decades earlier. But it turns out that her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie's father have taken her away from Madlyn? What really happened to her family thirty years ago?
In search of answers, Hallie travels to the place where her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes. The stiff islanders fix her first with icy stares and then unabashed amazement as they recognize why she looks so familiar, and Hallie quickly realizes her family's dark secrets are enmeshed in the history of this strange place. But not everyone greets her with such a chilly reception—a coffee-shop owner and the family's lawyer both warm to Hallie, and the possibility of romance blooms. And then there's the grand Victorian house bequeathed to her—maybe it's the eerie atmosphere or maybe it's the prim, elderly maid who used to work for her mother, but Hallie just can't shake the feeling that strange things are starting to happen . . .
Meh. A good story, but not a well told one. In the author’s defence, I think it’s her first book, published about 12 years ago and the only one published by Henry Holt (I believe all the rest of her books are published by an Amazon subsidiary).
The premise of the story is a gripping one: when Hallie was 5, her father faked her and his deaths, spiriting her away to the other side of the country, convincing her that her mother died in a house fire where everything was lost. He gets away with it for over 30 years, until early-onset Alzheimer’s sets in and a picture of him and Hallie end up in the newspaper honouring him for his dedicated teaching career. Her mother, thinking her dead all these years, finds out, only to write her a letter, conveniently change her will, and die of a heart attack, leaving Hallie the sole heir of a mother she thought long dead and never got to meet. A day later, her father passes too.
This is where the book begins, with Hallie heading to the island in Lake Superior, devastated and in shock and wondering why her perfect and adored father would have committed such a crime.
This is definitely a ghost story, unlike my first Wendy Webb (also the most recent, I believe). It’s just not a very spooky one, although it definitely should be; the crap that went down in that house should have made me hair stand on end. But it didn’t.
This also tries to be a romance. I like both the characters and I don’t doubt they fell in loved and lived happily ever after, but I wasn’t moved by it.
I’m pretty sure there’s supposed to be an element of suspense, but I never felt suspended. I was pretty certain I knew who Iris was, and although I was correct, there is a twist at the end I didn’t anticipate at all. It should have been more shocking than it was, and instead it just left me surprised; a ‘huh’ instead of a ‘holy crap!’.
Like I said, a lot of good elements, but executed clumsily. I feel like, had this story been written by someone like Simone St. James, I’d have had to sleep with the lights on for a week. Instead, I’m not sure I’ll remember much of it by the time I go to sleep tonight.