From the desk of Sophia Rose:
What would the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, The Secret Garden, look like if all the main players were adults? That is what author Clarissa Harwood asked herself and a lush, atmospheric, and romantic historical suspense was born. A book from a new to me author and a set up I could not resist brought early tingles of excitement.
Vaughan Springthorpe finished settling her deceased solicitor father’s affairs and must now face an uncertain future. He trained her to copy and review legal documents and it is her dream to become a solicitor, herself. Facing resistance from her surviving family, because she is a woman and has a disability, she ignores this and takes the first step toward her dream by way of placing an advertisement for employment. A reply comes and she is hired by absentee estate owner, Sir Peter Spencer, to get the estate papers in order so he can sell.
Morton Abbey is a dreadful place where only Sir Peter’s reclusive brother and a couple servants are in residence. Vaughan encounters the prickly butler/valet, the belligerent invalid Mr. Spencer who doesn’t want
the house sold, and the chatty, old cook/housekeeper. Treated to a nighttime gunshot, to a ghostly child’s tears, and someone attempting her bedchamber door, she learns quickly that something is very wrong.
Nick Spencer is thought mad because his only child was drowned, and his wife left him. Vaughan has little sympathy and suspects the man of being behind all the mystery to drive her away from the estate. Thankfully there is a cheery gardener, Joe Dixon, who takes her out and shows her the loveliness of the grounds and the gardens and seems quite interested in Vaughan.
Slowly, she settles in and is even happy for a time—until the secrets of Morton Abbey are revealed along with the unwelcome feelings of her heart for someone who is all wrong for her.
The Curse of Morton Abbey was both a classical tribute and an absorbing, original tale. It had some gothic tones that made it mildly hair-raising as a good tale of this sort should. The set up and introduction of the intrepid, but also vulnerable heroine adventuring alone into her new circumstances struck just the right chord. the further set up of backdrop and other characters along with current situation fell into place to create one riveting story. I liked seeing the way the Abbey slowly changed her while she has an equally good effect on the people at the abbey especially Nick by drawing him out of his darkened rooms and darker thoughts to enjoy the sunshine with her and Joe in the garden.
Vaughan was not an insipid heroine. She’s brash and rushes in where angels fear to tread, as the old saying goes. I was on the fence about her at the outset. While I entered into her feelings on wanting a career rather than be the poor relation, wanting to be respected for her skill no matter her gender, and not being treated poorly because she has a physical disability, she comes on very strong with her own sharp tongue and ways. She strode into that house and one day later she’s snooping in a locked wing and pushing her way into Mr. Spencer’s sick room demanding he talk about family secrets that are none of her business and discuss estate business before they are even introduced. I found her behavior and actions improbable for only her first day there especially since she was only hired to organize the estate papers. I came around to being pro Vaughan as the story continued after that first day and was on the edge of my seat as she faced the creepy moments, sussed out secrets, and got to know the handful of residents on the estate and the nearby villagers. She comes into her own as she is respected for her intelligence and her abilities, treated like someone special, and learns to believe in love and feels it for two very different men.
I enjoyed how the twists and turns built-up to a breath-taking and emotional climax before offering an equally absorbing denouement to the end. I figured out some of what was going on, but there was a great deal that I had to wait to find out including her romance choice.
All in all, this was a fabulous first outing with Clarissa Harwood’s writing and I loved the strong nod to The Secret Garden. I can unequivocally recommend it to gothic and historical suspense readers.
5 out of 5 Stars
- The Curse of Morton Abbey, by Clarissa Harwood
- Thornfield Press (October 26, 2021)
- Trade paperback & eBook (361) pages
- ISBN: 978-1777736903
- Genre: Historical Suspense, Victorian Mystery
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Thornfield Press © 2021; text Sophia Rose © 2021, austenprose.com.