From the desk of Katie Patchell:
It’s that time of year again: when days shorten, and the once-warm breeze transforms into a blustery wind. Now is the season where, regardless of uncertain global events, we settle into the familiar routines of planning family holidays and awaiting the ghostly specters that rise from book’s pages (or knock on the door, asking for chocolate) around All Hallow’s Eve. While telling Dickensian spooky stories around a fire may be a tradition from the past, the thrill of meeting ephemeral visitors is an experience that isn’t solely possessed by Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. Regency novelist Sally Britton has created her latest tale — A Haunting at Havenwood — as an homage to all things Gothic, mysterious, and romantic.
“For the first time, Louisa had an opportunity to make up her own mind. The idea both thrilled and unsettled her.” (Chapter 6, Location 864)
Louisa Banner’s life changed three years ago when her loving father died, leaving her solely to her mother’s cuttingly ambitious care. It is turned on its axis, however, when Louisa is calmly told that they have no money left. As a result, she is to live with her father’s aunt, a woman she has never met. It isn’t being virtually penniless that hurts Louisa; her pain is because her mother has unemotionally and secretly planned her removal from their home for weeks. On arriving at her great-aunt’s doorstep, Louisa is faced with an unexpected recipe for happiness featuring three entirely unlooked-for ingredients. They are: one very lovable great-aunt, one intriguing buried treasure, and one mysterious gentleman named Erasmus who Louisa feels is, quite possibly and against all her no-nonsense ideas, a ghost.
“It is only once in a lifetime, if at all, that a man meets someone who changes everything.” (Chapter 17, Location 2436)
Erasmus Grey is, perhaps fortunately for Louisa, not a ghost. Unfortunately for him, he knows a pair of ghosts, and they refuse to leave him alone. Owing to his reticence in company, stammer, and constant scribbling (he is an author after all, although thanks to a pseudonym, no one knows), Ras believes he doesn’t live up to his family’s expectations. When two ancestral ghosts appear, telling him to look for his family’s buried treasure, he begrudgingly acquiesces. What Ras doesn’t expect is his own confusing ingredient list for happiness: two ghosts whose main hobbies are lecturing and matchmaking, and one bewitchingly curious fellow treasure-seeker.
I love a novel that keeps me guessing, and A Haunting at Havenwood held me captive by its alluring unpredictability. Given that, I cannot give any spoilers away. All I can say is that, in its drama-free beauty and poignant simplicity, the ending is unmatched. Another highlight is Louisa’s personal journey. It is a haven she needs and a haven she gets, although unexpectedly. This isn’t because of a scarring experience with a duke or a scathing put-down by a society star (as is the theme in other Regencies, which I equally love), but the simple haven of a quiet cottage with a small number of true friends nearby. In her time near Havenwood, Louisa discovers more than a mystery—she discovers her courage and freedom. Seeing both Louisa and Erasmus break out of their expected molds organically and naturally — with plenty of missteps along the way — was a bright spot in A Haunting at Havenwood, a novel with an already solid plot.
The only negative that affected my complete enjoyment of this novel was its speedy ending. The middle was like a procedural crime drama, with painstakingly discovered clues as to the treasure’s whereabouts and Erasmus’ lineage. Yet its rushed ending shifted the novel’s focus from discovery of the treasure to discovery of a different kind, and the earlier dramatic build-up of clues seemed a bit anticlimactic. Fortunately, Sally Britton has written a bonus short story to fill in the gaps between the final chapter and Epilogue. If you subscribe to her newsletter, you can download it for free.
In this mercurial month of easy spooking at every lengthening shadow, I highly recommend picking up A Haunting at Havenwood. It will thrill without frightening (too much), and warm without raising the heating bill. Within its Gothic frame beats the heart of good cheer, discovery, and above all, love: the brightest ember this season.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
- A Haunting at Havenwood: Seasons of Change (Book 6), by Sally Britton
- Independently published (September 12, 2020)
- Trade paperback, eBook (222) pages
- ISBN: 979-8685495495
Disclosure of Material Connection: We purchased a copy of this book for our own enjoyment. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Cover image courtesy of Sally Britton © 2020; text Katie Patchell © 2020, Austenprose.com