Seeking refuge after a murder upends her life, a woman discovers that no matter how far she runs, she can’t escape the demons of her past
Widowed London social worker Georgina “Georgie” Jefferson battles guilt and public disgrace when one of her charges, abused five-year-old Angela Hopkins, is beaten to death. She retreats to Furze Pen, an isolated Devon cottage that once belonged to Stephen, the deceased brother she never knew. In this refuge, she hopes to learn something about Stephen. But the hostility of her neighbors and a series of chilling incidents—including the disappearance of her dog and a stranger lurking around the cottage at night—disturb Georgie’s desperate search for peace. As winter closes in, Georgie must discover who or what threatens her most . . . the tragedies of her past or a new danger from her tormented present. Once again, master of suspense Gillian White depicts the dreadful, dependent relationship that can sprout between love and violence.
The author of 10 novels previously published in Britain, White makes her American debut with this atmospheric though uneven thriller, set in a remote corner of Dartmoor, in the southwest of England. Conscientious, middle-aged London social worker Georgie Jefferson is publicly vilified when an abused little girl under her supervision is killed by her father. Wracked with guilt and remorse, she retreats to a cottage in the tiny Dartmoor town of Wooton-Coney, deeded to her after the suicide of her older brother, Stephen, a reclusive painter. Stephen left home before Georgie was born, and Georgie was not informed by her cold, vicious mother of his existence until she was 11. She uses her time in Dartmoor to make inquiries about him, while trying to escape her memories of the dead girl. The country lifestyle proves restorative, as Georgie has tea with eccentric neighbors, raises chickens and spends languorous days with her fickle photographer boyfriend. Soon, however, she is faced with frightening signs that someone wants her out of the way: a doll burned in a nest of rags, blood spattered on canvas, the disappearance of her dog, an eye peering at her through a hole in the roof. Just as she is about to leave for London, a massive snowstorm cuts off the cottage from the world, and Georgie becomes an easy target for a terrifying killer. The final, overwrought chapters involve two stranded loggers, an unlikely romance and a gruesome denouement, but it is the thematic leap White makes in tying together the London abuse case, the Dartmoor terror and Georgie's fraught relationships that is hardest to swallow. Though White's setting is evocative, the plot's jumps, twists and lapses undermine this thriller's effectiveness.