The Quickening (2020) by Rhiannon Ward

1925, England, and Louisa Drew is determined to make her mark on the world. Having been widowed in the Great War, and having lost her sons to the Spanish Flu of 1918, she accepts a commission to photograph the contents of Clewer Hall in Sussex. Despite being seven months pregnant, she heads for the Hall.

But dark secrets await her there. Clewer Hall hosted a séance in 1896 which still resonates with the family there. The Clewers are planning to leave the country for good, but before doing that, the plan is to recreate the séance one last time. Secrets from thirty years before are about to be revealed – it seems that the house itself has a long memory.

I mentioned when I reviewed Death And The Brewery Queen that it was a bit late, as Frances Brody has sent it to me over two months previously. Well, I’m even later with this one… Sarah aka Rhiannon Ward, a friend of the blog sent me this back in August. She was a tad wary, and told me I was under no expectation to read this. Previously, Sarah has written four excellent modern-day police procedurals, starting with In Bitter Chill, books that I can heartily recommend.

This book is a deliberate change of style – a gothic mystery is what Amazon calls it, but while there is certainly a mystery here, anyone who buys is just for that is going to be disappointed. But the book has much more going for it than a whodunit.

It’s a stylish tale, told mostly in 1925, but there are brief flashbacks to 1898, the previous séance, told in a clever narrative trick that works very well. The 1925 narrative focuses on Louisa as she becomes drawn into the secrets of the house and the ghosts that haunt it – I don’t think it’s a spoiler that this is a ghost story as well.

Sarah was right when she thought this wouldn’t be my cup of tea – it’s not the sort of book that I would normally read – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t spot a good read when I see it. Fans of the gothic/ghost/mystery genre need to check this book out. The paperback is out in April 2021.

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