Orphaned teenage girls Eliza and Rebecca live with their Aunt Bess in post-WWII London, but she sends them to work for sinister housekeeper Mrs. Pollard at Abigale Hall in the Welsh countryside. Abigale Hall is filled with mysteries: What happened to the previous servants? Who is the woman depicted with her back turned in all the paintings? What are the strange groans emanating from the bowels of the house? Why are there bloodstains in the library? I won’t give away any secrets, but I will say that Eliza is rarely certain whether the horrors she experiences are real or in her mind (rest assured that Forry plays fair with the reader, and I never once felt cheated). Eliza is the elder sister, and her desire to escape is complicated by her strong sense of responsibility towards Rebecca, a strange child who seems to flourish in her macabre surroundings and who becomes increasingly loyal to Mrs. Pollard.
This is the kind of book that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go. I am usually a silent reader, but this story made me squirm, gasp and even scream several times. Forry expertly ratchets up the tension on every page, using sensory details so vivid that I can still taste Mrs. Pollard’s Spam salad, which to Eliza is “a gooey, pale pink chunk on a bed of browned salad plucked from the compost pile.” And while the story is timeless, as all good tales of terror are, Forry anchors it with period details that explain the psychology and concerns of the characters.
Fans of gothic classics such as du Maurier’s Rebecca and James’s The Turn of the Screw will love this creepy, gruesome tale of terror. Just don’t read it before eating or going to bed. Highly recommended.