cover image Perfectly Pure and Good

Perfectly Pure and Good

Frances Fyfield. Pantheon Books, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42665-3

With this nimble meld of ghost story, moral fable and psychological drama, Fyfield ( Shadow Play ; Question of Guilt ) joins the ranks of those writers--Peter Dickinson and Michael Dibdin among them--who reinvent the genre with social commentary and impressionistic narrative brushstrokes. Red-haired Sarah Fortune, a young and effortlessly attractive widowed lawyer, goes to East Anglia to sort out the muddled legal affairs of the family of recently deceased Henry Pardoe. In the same seaside town two years earlier, red-haired Elisabeth Tysall committed suicide by drowning. A year later her husband Charles--who had also been violently obsessed with Sarah--did the same, walking into the sea. While villagers report sightings of both Tysall ghosts, Sarah gradually discerns the twists within the troubled Pardoe family. She deals with a pouting, brutal younger son, a bitter older son (a doctor and once the lover of Elisabeth Tysall) and a teenaged daughter in love with a local boy; the widow Pardoe appears to be over-the-top loony. Honing in on their secrets, Sarah gradually reveals secrets of her own. This is a complex, unsettling novel. (Apr.)