cover image Deadlight Hall

Deadlight Hall

Sarah Rayne. Severn, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8471-8

The very accessible fifth novel in Rayne's neo-gothic haunted house series (after What Lies Beneath) hits highs in plot and writing, with a well-balanced mix of emotions including humor, poignancy, and the macabre. When Oxford professor and children's book author Michael Flint is approached by his colleague Leo about the titular old house and the dark memories associated with it, Flint and his paramour, antiques dealer Nell West, set off to discover the building's true history. Nell and Michael are largely bystanders, as the majority of the action takes place in the past (revealed in historical documents and letters), but readers will be too caught up in the story to miss them. The house's sordid history covers everything from Victorian penal conditions and child labor to Nazi spies and Holocaust survivors, and while some of the fates are just gruesome (there are multiple immolations), several are genuinely tragic. As always, Michael's cat, Wilberforce, provides some lighter moments, this time wreaking havoc with painters and photographers. Michael and Nell's ever-evolving relationship also provides a nice contrast to the sorrows they discover in their research. Rayne's able pacing ties together all the historical and contemporary threads in a satisfying conclusion. (Apr.)