Beauty, romance, suspense: Judith Eubank handles a timeless mystery with a light, sure touch. Crossover evokes the brooding atmosphere of Daphne du Maurier with the wit, intelligence, and sensibility of Dorothy Sayers. As she adapts to British university life, Meredith Blake, a young American scholar, discovers that Edwards Hall is not the same for her as it is for the others. For her, it is full of riddles and reminders of the Victorian family that had once lived there and the tragedy that overtook them. Intrigued by the mystery hidden in the Hall's past, Meredith begins to explore the manor house and becomes increasingly challenged, baffled, and threatened by what she finds there. Something has singled her out, slowly isolating her from the twentieth-century world she knows.
An intriguing first novel succeeds despite a major weakness: flimsily drawn supporting characters. Meredith Blake is a bright and ambitious American graduate student at Devonshire's historic Exeter University. She and 45 other students are housed in imposing but shabby Edwards Hall, a 17th-century manor formerly owned by the landed Thornton family. As Meredith begins her studies and explores the atmospheric sites nearby, she is aware that she is seeing and hearing people who obviously belong in the 19th century. In one particularly unnerving moment Meredith finds herself back in 1836 and becoming Nora Henslowe, governess to appealing but troubled young Katherine Thornton. Traveling from the present to 1836 Meredith is plunged deeper into mysteries surrounding the Thornton family; through research into contemporary parish registers and astute attention to old letters, she realizes that Katherine's mother is due to die in two weeks. Should she intervene? What are the consequences of altering the past? Meredith is tough, witty and likable; the mystery is tight and absorbing; the narrative fairly zips along. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters, including Meredith's charming tutor and wholesome friends, are insubstantial, merely props for advancing the plot.