The Lost Ones
1917. Overwhelmed by grief for her dead fiancé, Stella Marcham is struggling to maintain a semblance of normality when her brother-in-law Hector asks her to go and stay with her pregnant sister Madeleine at Greyswick, his family’s forbidding manor house. But Stella finds Madeleine is jittery and unlike her usual self, haunted by mysterious sounds and unexplained events at Greyswick which begin to affect Stella too. Stella’s odd maid Annie Burrows seems to be the key to unlocking the long buried secrets of Greyswick – if only Annie were willing to help…
This debut novel has all the classic tropes of the Gothic novel: a large and sinister house with a tragic past, mysterious sounds in the attic, a vulnerable heroine, and a cast of characters who are obviously bound together by unspoken secrets. The background of World War I adds an extra dimension to the story because it is entirely plausible that the scars the war has left on Stella might cause her to be regarded by the other characters as an unreliable witness. The subtlety of the characterisation and the way the manifestations of the ghosts of Greyswick are presented justify comparisons with Susan Hill, though it strikes me that The Small Hand might be a closer parallel than The Woman in Black.
There are a few modern words – unfazed, angst, patsy, morphed – which grated on me precisely because the rest of the first-person narrative seemed to capture the atmosphere of a different era so well. But I’m looking forward to reading whatever Frank writes next – particularly as the door has been left open to a possible sequel.