Thursday, September 10, 2015

Property of a Lady by Sarah Rayne

First Sentence: Michael, Is there any possible chance you could sneak a day or two away from Oxford and take a look at a house for me?

Oxford Professor Michael Flint receives a letter from his American friends asking him to check out an old house in Shropshire that has been empty and derelict for years, but has been found to now belong to his friend’s wife. Charect House is in decidedly poor condition, but it’s more than that which causes Michael to be uncomfortable during his visit. Who is watching him? Why does he hear a clock ticking where there is none, and who is the woman captured at an attic window by his photograph? Things become even more puzzling when Michael meets antique dealer Nell West, a young widow with a daughter the same age as his friends', and both girls are having the same nightmare, an ocean apart.

Do you like “Ghost Hunters,” a show which tries first to debunk claims, or find a rational explanation for them and if they can’t, then it “might” be paranormal. That is the type of paranormal mystery you’ll find here? There is plenty to raise the hair on your arms and has a sufficient creepy factor, but it is not bloody or gory. From the very beginning, and the definition of the house’s name, you know there will be suspense and things that go bump and in the night…and in the day.

Rayne has such a natural voice. By opening with the exchange of letters, we learn quite a bit about Dr. Michael Flint. He is well educated, something of a luddite, and has a cat, Wilberforce, about whom he creates wonderful adventures. It is that sort of detail with adds humor and light to an otherwise eerie situation. With Nell West and her daughter, we are provided their history, the tragedy that befell them, and how Nell rebuilt her life for the two of them.

It is wonderful that the two characters are normal people; neither overly brave, but neither is foolhardy. It is curiosity—a desire for answers—that drives them on and wanting to ensure there will be safety for themselves, Michael's friends, and most of all, the two girls. That there is a bit of a romance doesn’t hurt at all. Rayne is a very literary writer occasionally driving one to a dictionary…”welter of jingoism…” or the internet to do research of one’s own.

There is a very strong sense of place and atmosphere…”The scent of age met Michael at once, and it was so strong that for a moment he felt his senses blur. But this was not the musty dankness of damp or rot; this was age at its best and most evocative; a potpourri of old seasons timbers and long-ago fires, and a lingering scent of dried lavender.”

This is a first book and it is not perfect. Although always interesting, there is too much “telling” through letters and diaries, than showing the reader the events. Even so, without the book being set in multiple time periods, I’m not certain that could have been avoided.

Property of a Lady” is a wonderful paranormal mystery with just the right balance of light and dark that leaves you with a “bump in the night” moment at the very end.

PROPERTY OF A LADY (Par Mys-Michael Flint/Nell West-England-Contemp) – VG
Rayne, Sarah – 1st in series
Severn House, 2011

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