Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.
Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.
As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?
The dark, gothic atmosphere of Lockwood Manor pervades the whole of this book, Healy’s writing is so atmospheric that the house takes on a character and presence all of it’s own. From the moment that the evacuated Mammal collection with Hetty as its keeper arrive at Lockwood it is clear she is not fully welcome there.
Over time we are introduced to a small cast of characters through the joint narration of Hetty and Lord Lockwood’s adult daughter Lucy. We meet Lucy’s mother in Lucy’s recollections of her, the housekeeper, the maids, memories of Lucy’s childhood and learn some of Hetty’s background too.
Hetty and Lucy are increasingly drawn into each others company as WW2 gains pace in the outside world. Lucy who has suffered poor mental health since childhood finds peace in Hetty’s company and Hetty finds a friend that she has had precious few of. The change in their relationship from friendship to partners is well done and feels natural. Its a lovely relationship that rang true to the both of them.
The further into the story we go the darker the story turns, as Hetty gradually unpicks the unhappiness of Lockwood Manor and her own feelings about being there the house becomes more and more oppressive and the final few chapters are really very dark indeed and touch on some difficult themes.
I have to mention the cover of this book as well – it is absolutely stunning. My copy also has wonderfully decorated page edges – it may well be the most beautiful book I own.
I very much enjoyed being swept up in the story, and the world building was superb. Darkly gothic, a book to get lost in but be wary if you find stories containing child abuse triggering.