The Poisoned House
by Michael Ford
Published August 1, 2011
Received ARC from NetGalley
The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to Mrs Cotton, the tyrannical housekeeper. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.
So when a real ghost makes an appearance - that of her beloved mother - no one is more surprised than Abi. But the spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down.
Review: I love books with footnotes and when The Poisoned House started with a ‘note’ from the curator telling how the following papers had been found in an attic, I was instantly intrigued. After an initial burst of action, the story slowed down a little to spend some time establishing the atmosphere not only of the eponymous House but also of the inhabitants. Abigail Tamper is dealing not only with the recent death of her mother but also the ill-tempered and vindictive housekeeper, insane Master of the House, and the shy attentions of one of the delivery boys. The Gothic atmosphere is established quickly as supernatural events start happening - events beyond the pranks she and the other servants play on the housekeeper. Soon a spiritualist is consulted, the young Master, the boy Abi grew up with, comes home injured from Crimea, and the stage is set for ghostly maneuverings.
I’ve read quite a few Gothic novels - both modern ones and historical - and was able to easily predict the villain of the piece, but the ride of discovery that Abi is taken on is both engaging and a lot of fun. I read the book in one sunny afternoon as I was unwilling to put the book down to go outside. Mr. Ford does an excellent job of staying true to the era in language and decorum without the overwrought writing that can be a hallmark of older Gothic novels. For those who haven’t read older novels or are turned off by the elaborate descriptions and language of those of the 18th and 19th centuries may very much enjoy the more modern writing of The Poisoned House.
My copy was provided for review by NetGalley.