Last night I went in search of Manderley. Or rather, one of my copies of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca, which is 75 this year. I have both a paperback with a scarlet R emblazoned on the front and an old blue hardcover purchased at a long-ago library sale. It’s a book I come back to again and again, and I’ve promised myself another a reread as soon as I finish writing about some more recent gothic tales.
Cassandra King’s Moonrise (Maiden Lane Press, digital galley) is a fond homage to du Maurier’s tale, with just enough plot parallels to remind readers of Rebecca and enough differences to make it a good stand-alone. The title refers to a mountainside mansion in Highlands, N.C., with a nocturnal garden that glows under the full moon. It’s also the summer home of charismatic newsman Emmet Justice’s first wife, Rosalyn, killed in a highway accident less than a year ago. Her close friends and grown daughter are still mourning her death when Emmet returns to Moonrise with his second wife, Florida divorcee and TV cooking show host Helen Honeycutt.
Some mystery surrounds Rosalyn’s death and some oddities suggest Moonrise may be haunted, but King is more interested in the complexities of long friendships and second marriages tested by jealousy, obsession and betrayal. She ups the tension by rotating the present-tense narrative among three women: Helen, living in Rosalyn’s house in Rosalyn’s shadow; Willa, the local property manager on whom the friends rely; and Tansy, a sharply observant Atlanta socialite who may or may not be on Helen’s side. Overall, Moonrise reminded me less of Rebecca and more of Anne Rivers Siddons’ novel Islands, another good Southern gothic.
Judy Finnigan’s first novel Eloise (Redhook, digital galley) is set in du Maurier’s atmospheric Cornwall and sounds a bit like Rebecca, at least in the beginning: “Yesterday I almost saw her. . .She wasn’t there, of course. How could she be, when I had seen her lying in her coffin just two weeks ago, two days before she was buried…”
Cathy is grieving her best friend Eloise, whose death from breast cancer has sent her reeling. Because she’s also recovering from a nervous breakdown, Cathy has trouble convincing people, primarily her psychiatrist husband, that Eloise is also haunting her dreams, begging her to protect her twin daughters from their father. OK, Eloise took some secrets to her grave that Cathy begins to uncover, but the many allusions to du Maurier and Wuthering Heights can’t plug the holes in the plot.
Hannah Richell’s The House of Tides (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley) is more Rosamund Pilcher family saga than du Maurier gothic, but it does feature a shabby mansion on the Dorset coast. The Tides family has a love/hate relationship with Clifftops, especially Helen, a classics professor who lets her husband talk her into moving to his family’s ancestral pile. When tragedy strikes, family members fly apart, taking their secrets with them. A decade later, younger sister Dora returns to Clifftops, seeking to reconcile with her mother and with older sister Cassie. Richell’s tale moves back and forth in time, dropping clues as to what really happened that day on the beach.
After my mom introduced me to Rebecca and du Maurier’s other works when I was about 11 or 12, I became hooked on the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt and Dorothy Eden. I still have all my Stewarts — mostly paperbacks — but the box with all the others disappeared years ago when someone broke into my apartment storage locker. When Sourcebooks started rereleasing Holt in paperback a couple of years ago, I quickly pounced on Mistress of Mellyn and Bride of Pendorric. Now they’re coming out as e-books, and I just reread The Shivering Sands. Similarly, Dorothy Eden’s going digital and so far I’ve picked up old favorites Ravenscroft (Open Road Media, purchased e-book) and Darkwater (Open Road Media, digital galley) and relished their gothic delights. I also found an Eden I’d missed, Waiting for Willa (Open Road Media, digital galley), which turned out to be a 20th-century mystery set in the trendy crime-book country of Sweden. Lots of chills and even a mysterious mansion. Which reminds me: I’m off to Manderley.