The Evening Spider

Written by Emily Arsenault
Review by Jackie Drohan

Based on publicized 19th-century New England murder trials, The Evening Spider is the first foray into the supernatural by noted psychological suspense author Emily Arsenault. It will appeal not only to her existing fan base, but also to lovers of both forensic mystery and Victorian ghost stories.

Its converging storylines follow the first-person experiences of two new mothers living in the same house a century apart. Present-day schoolteacher Abby Bernaki is troubled by guilty dreams from her past, and unexplained phenomena centered in baby Lucy’s nursery. Her attempts to unravel both take on an obsessive mood as she investigates local history, and interconnections of birth, death and betrayal. Mysteries of motive and conflict are Arsenault’s strong point, and bind well with the tale of Abby’s historical counterpart, Frances Barnett, the troubled young wife of a local lawyer.

It takes a few chapters to track the narrative structure. Frances speaks from two perspectives: the pages of her early journal and in an interview spoken to her twin brother, Harry, from Northampton Lunatic Asylum – an eerily historical setting. The payoff does come, however, and the nuanced differences in Frances’s literary voice before and after the big plot point become integral to the story. Arsenault has a valuable stylistic benchmark in the detailed contemporary press coverage of the murder trial. The dimensionality of her modern characters seems to suffer a bit in comparison, their dialog often having a filler quality.

A bonus for crime scene investigation fans is the sea change in forensics which the trial chronicles. For the first time in the late 1800s, scientific methods appeared in the courtroom, and criminal justice would never be the same.

We look forward to more historical fiction from Arsenault.