The Orphan House

Written by Ann Bennett
Review by Karen Tinsley

In 1934, young Connie Burroughs watches her father from the shadows at Cedar Hall, an orphanage in the English countryside. He is the superintendent with a secret room above the carriage house where he disappears for hours, sometimes all night. When she stumbles upon her father giving away a foundling, he invokes a fear in her that will ensure all his secrets are kept safe.

In present-day Weirfield, Sarah Jennings finds comfort with her terminally ill father while she puts her life back together. Her father was one of Cedar Hall’s foundlings, and his search for his parents have hit a dead end. The clock is ticking, and she wants to help. Cedar Hall is about to be sold, and the only person who could have answers is ninety-something Connie Burroughs, who has been placed in senior care.

Elderly Connie drifts in and out of memories, while fears of a vengeful father-in-spirit haunt her. When Sarah starts asking questions about Cedar Hall, Connie is distraught that his secrets, secrets she doesn’t want to know, will be discovered. Answers may lie in an unread diary given to Connie long ago by Anna, a young pregnant woman. Through the diary, the author drops breadcrumbs between Connie’s memories. Anna’s story is compelling; however, her diary reads more like a first-person novel.

The author has wonderful details and descriptive language, but for Anna’s diary I was often bumped out of the story thinking, “No one would write this description in a diary.” Her characterization of the elderly Connie is told with heartfelt honesty, vacillating between fearful child, rational adult, and confused senior. The romance is sweet, with just a touch of heat, and slips easily into the storyline without feeling gratuitous or implausible. Ann Bennett’s story is a charmer, and I couldn’t wait to put the puzzle pieces together.