Thrilling, chilling novels for autumn nights By various authors - book reviews -

The Widow of Pale Harbour
The Widow of Pale Harbour

There’s more than a hint of gothic in two seductive novels set to raise readers’ goosebumps as Halloween fast approaches.

There’s more than a hint of gothic in two seductive novels set to raise readers’ goosebumps as Halloween fast approaches.

The Widow of Pale Harbour

Hester Fox

Mystery, menace, romance… and more than a hint of witchcraft.

If gothic drama sends a shiver of anticipation down your spine, then curl up on dark autumn nights with a gripping adventure threaded through with intriguing literary allusions to groundbreaking American poet and master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe.

Hester Fox, whose debut novel The Witch of Willow Hall whipped up a storm of visual and verbal thrills, harnesses her work in museums and historic houses to paint atmospheric backdrops of haunted houses and the superstitious fears that still gripped 19th century New England society long after the Salem witch trials.

Here, we travel to Maine in 1846 where Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death in childbirth, and moves to Maine, taking a position as a minister in the remote coastal village of Pale Harbour.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople claim that only one person can be responsible… Sophy Carver, a beautiful, reclusive and wealthy widow who lives with her spinster maid and friend Helen in the eerie, isolated Castle Carver and rarely ventures out.

There are whispers that Sophy almost certainly killed her husband, and some mutter that she might even be a witch. Only one thing is crystal clear… these bizarre happenings are the work of a twisted person inspired by the wildly popular stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

But when the menace escalates into a series of horrific copycat murders gleaned from Poe’s books, Gabriel finds himself falling under the spell of outcast Sophy. Soon clues start to point to Sophy as the next victim and Gabriel realises he must find answers before anyone else turns up dead... and Pale Harbour suffers a fate worthy of Poe’s darkest tales.

Fox’s cast of charismatic characters – including the strong and sensitive Gabriel and the fierce gothic heroine Sophy – are beautifully portrayed in a story that tingles with danger, dark mystery, hints of the supernatural, and a sultry, simmering romance.

Ideal reading for fans of thrills and chills …

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)

The Beauty of the Wolf

Wray Delaney

Forget the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast and indulge your mind and senses in this stunning, feminist retelling by Wray Delaney, pen name of award-winning children’s novelist Sally Gardner.

The Beauty of the Wolf is another imaginative and extraordinary novel from Delaney who first burst on to the scene as a writer of adult novels with An Almond for a Parrot, a sizzling evocation of bawdy 18th century novels like Fanny Hill and The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders.

Here, she casts her sharp, analytic eye over traditional folklore and fairy tales in a riveting, highly spiced gothic adventure which turns on its head the classic trope of the love between a beautiful young woman and a beast of a man.

Instead, we have a handsome young man cursed by his own beauty, a woman deemed too monstrous to ever see the light of day, a menacing sorceress who orchestrates the action, and all set against the seductive backdrop of Elizabethan England rendered magical and mystical.

Throw in plenty of references to Shakespeare, the real-life ‘lord’ of theatre revels, seductive elements of fantasy and the supernatural, a fascinating exploration of gender roles, theories of the grotesque, and questions about identity and beauty, and you have an exciting multi-genre odyssey.

‘What some might call beauty, I find monstrous’

In the age of the Faerie Queene, Elizabeth I, a period of ruffles and lace, velvets and satins, two newborn babies are cursed, one with unimaginable beauty and the other, in its mirror image, a beast.

Ten years earlier, Lord Francis Rodermere had started to lay waste to a forest. Furious, the sorceress who dwelt there scrawled a curse into the bark of the first oak he fells… a faerie boy will be born to you whose beauty will be your death.

And when Lord Rodermere’s son, Beau, is born, all who encounter him are struck by his great beauty. Meanwhile, many miles away in a London alchemist’s cellar lives Randa – a creature so ugly that she can never be seen. Lonely and hidden away, she longs for love but could anyone ever see past her wings and beak and sharp talons?

Is it possible that these two cursed creatures could be one another’s salvation when all hope is lost? So begins a timeless tale of love, tragedy and revenge…

The Beauty of the Wolf is a dazzling adventure from start to finish… bawdy and yet beautiful, brimming with atmosphere, rich detail and language, and a true mixed bag of both darkness and delights.

Subtle, clever, fanciful and fiercely topical…

(HQ, paperback, £8.99)