Mrs. England

Stacey Halls. Mira, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7783-8631-5
Familiar tropes dampen the chilling effect of Halls’s promising excursion (after The Foundling) into the haunting and harrowing halls of domestic traumas set in the Yorkshire moors of Edwardian England. Newly graduated from the prestigious Norland Institute for the Training of Ladies as Children’s Nurses, Ruby May turns down an offer to move to Chicago for a job in 1904 and instead tends to the four children of Charles and Lilian England, wealthy cotton mill owners, at the isolated Hardcastle House. Ruby instantly surmises that “something’s not right” with the innocuously charming father and the enigmatic, seemingly addled mother who occasionally sleepwalks. Lost letters, an accusatory message smeared on a bathroom mirror, locked doors, and a nearly fatal scare involving a gaslight shroud bigger secrets. Flashbacks detail Ruby’s disquieting childhood, and the treacherous landscape of raging rivers, craggy hillsides, and deep, dark woods create an eerie atmosphere and add to the heart-stopping conclusion. The sort of ordeals Ruby faces as the beleaguered nanny have been seen before, but Halls does a nice job highlighting the imbalance of power determined by gender and class, and the deceit that follows psychological manipulation of daughters, mothers, and wives. Astute readers may suss out the plot early on, but it still offers a beguiling, leisurely diversion. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 11/30/2021
Release date: 04/12/2022
Genre: Fiction
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