A haunting legend. An ominous curse. A search for a secret buried deep within the castle walls.
In 1870, orphaned Daisy François takes a position as a housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. As women disappear from the area and the eerie circumstances seem to parallel a local legend, Daisy is thrust into a web that could ultimately steal her sanity if not her life.
In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman’s stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery and the dust of the old castle’s curse threaten to rise again . . . this time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale.
I’ve always maintained that more gothic and haunted house novels should be set in the Upper Midwest. After all, what could be eerier than months of snow trapping people in side houses that may be hidden from even their nearest neighbors? So I was excited to discover author Jamie Jo Wright, who lives in Wisconsin and has a backlist full of creepy, Midwest-set stories.
In her latest, three generations of women find themselves at a castle built in rural Wisconsin by a wealthy man for his wife, who died tragically soon after. Since then, women and girls have mysteriously vanished from Castle Moreau creating an air of horror around the palatial home.
One main storyline is that of Daisy, who tries to escape her circumstances by taking what turns out to be an unusual housekeeping position for the reclusive horror writer who calls Castle Moreau home in 1870. Both Daisy and her boss Ora are well-crafted characters who bring their own past traumas to the story as well as illustrate the strictures women faced at the time, and how dangerous those limits could be when the men in their lives wished to control them. I also enjoyed the backstory of Ora’s life as a writer and felt like it added another layer of eeriness to the story.
The incorporation of Cleo Clemmons as a modern storyline was also enjoyable and added a longer-term view of the missing young women. Through Cleo’s viewpoint, we get to see the contrast between the resilience of the women of Castle Moreau and the evils they have faced in trying to be true to themselves.
Though the mystery builds slowly, especially with the multiple timelines, it is well-plotted and keeps the suspense going for the length of the book. There is a slight note of romance, and inspirational themes, that combine with the mystery, making this a good choice for readers who might generally shy away from gothic literature for being too dark in tone. The only part that I didn’t quite feel fit with the rest of the book was the ending, which seemed almost too neat when compared to how the rest of the story had been told. However, I highly encourage trying out this book, especially if you’re looking for a fresh take on the haunted house genre.
Jaime Jo Wright is the author of eight novels, including Christy Award and Daphne du
Maurier Award-winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The
Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling
author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo; her husband,
Cap’n Hook; and their two mini-adults, Peter Pan and CoCo.