I took my second stab at an Erskine novel with this one, published in 1997.
Adopted at a young age, now that she has a young child of her own, Joss has sought out her mother and father. Both are dead, but she learns she has inherited the old, ancestral home, Belheddon, in a tiny village in Essex. The inheritance comes at a perfect time since her husband Luke has just seen his business go down in flames. Almost from the first, though, Joss realizes something isn't right with the house: a cryptic note from her mother, warnings from those who live in the area, laughter of children who cannot be found, cold spots, mysterious roses that appear on her pillow, shadowy figures, and voices haunt Joss, Luke, and their son, Tom. What is wrong with the house, and what can be done about it? Will the family be able to exorcise the evil there, or will it engulf them?
Plot: 4/5 [This novel moved at a nice pace, and even more importantly, the dialogue was much better this time around. I think Erskine had some coaching or writing classes between this novel and Midnight is a Lonely Place. This one was published two years later; I admire the changes she managed to pull off. It is nice to see changes for the better in a writer; the dialogue between male and female characters is usually fine and when it's bad, it's only slightly intolerable. The novel really got suspenseful for me around 150 pages in; it was enjoyable to that point, but the intrigue heightened as it went on. I enjoyed reading this one in bits and savoring it.]
Characterization: 4/5 [The characters are nicely drawn, though I can't say I have ideas about who would play most of them.]
Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [This one is quite spooky and has plenty of thrills and chills. In fact, it kept me awake a little last night. I took off a star for just how haunted the house is. There is not much subtlety in the novel; these ghosts come at the reader fast, furious, and in great number-- especially in the beginning. The novel mellows and gets richer as it goes, if that makes sense. Also, the first reference to the Tin Man honestly made me giggle. Erskine writes unevenly (in my opinion), but if you want lots of ghostly activity, she's a sure bet.]
Literary elements: 4/5 [This one is pretty fluffy, but I admire any novelist who writes lengthy novels like this one and holds them together this well.]
Rating: 4 stars ****
I recommend this one as a good Halloween season read. If you like haunted mansions, tearful love stories through generations or ghosts in general, this one is for you. The novel is long, too, so you have plenty of thrills to savor. I am not sure I'd read this one before bed, either, if you want to sleep well, and that's a pretty good recommendation for any Gothic Novel!