Monday, September 18, 2017


Title: The House on Foster Hill
Author: Jaime Jo Wright
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Pages: 352

It was the cover of the book, with a piano at the bottom of it a beautiful winding staircase, that had drawn me into this book, and it was the cozy mystery that invited me to stay. I was intrigued to find out how the lives of Ivy Thorpe and Kaine Prescott were connected a hundred years apart.

The book is written in the third person past tense point of view of Ivy Thorpe a hundred years ago, and that of Kaine Prescott in the present day. Both these women have been affected by past tragedies, and their sadness is aggravated on coming into contact with Foster Hill.

Ivy assists her father, Dr Thorpe, in medical emergencies and post mortems. She lost her brother in a tragic accident twelve years ago. At that time, she also lost touch with their chidlhoood friend, Joel Cunningham, an orphan. Since then, she has developed a morbid fascination with death. Joel has since returned to the town as the Sherriff’s deputy.

When an unidentified woman is found dead in a hollow in an oak tree near Foster House, Ivy feels very distressed on her account. Learning that the dead woman had given birth just weeks before, she returns to Foster House to find the baby, and is savagely attacked. Determined to find and save the baby, Ivy puts her own life in danger.

Kaine lost her husband, Danny, two years ago, in an accident in which he lost control of his car. Investigations revealed that he had narcotic substances in his blood. Kaine insists that her husband was never a drug user, and that it is therefore a murder. Meanwhile, she is also being stalked. The police believe that she suffers from trauma, and refuse to open Danny’s case, dismissing it as suicide.

Scarred by her tragedy and suffering badly from depression, she decides to move across states to her hometown in Wisconsin, where an unscrupulous realtor cons her into buying Foster House, a dilapidated house that is reputed to be haunted, and that has was the scene of a crime 100 years ago. 

The body of an unidentified woman had been discovered there and Ivy, who had become more than a little interested in the life of the ill-fated woman, had been severely assaulted there.

When Kaine gets there, she realizes that the house is unlivable, dilapidated, and worse, it seems, haunted. Plus, the stalking continues, and Kaine wonders why she seems to attract trouble. In her grandfather’s hometown, she is befriended by Joy, a woman who manages a local store, and Grant Jesse, the romantic interest for Kaine.

Their parallel lives meet when Kaine finds a copy of Dickens’ Great Expectations under the floorboards of the house. The book contains a woman’s writing in the margins. 

The text seems to suggest that the woman was in deep trouble and was calling out for help. It is the same copy that had propelled Ivy to invest in the predicament of the dead woman.

Both women become aware that there is someone out there who will go to any extent to hurt them. Even as their lives are in danger, they are determined to solve the mystery of Foster Hill House. But time is running out, and their unnamed enemy is getting closer. Will it be too late for them, as it for the unidentified woman who was killed in Foster Hill House?

Love enters the lives of Kaine and Ivy in the person of Grant Jesse for Kaine, and Joel Cunningham for Ivy.

Ivy is an unconventional character. She is courageous, prone to unorthodox exclamations and helps her father in post-mortems. I found Ivy more interesting than Kaine, especially since the house was creepier in her day. 

Besides, I felt that Ivy had been actually assaulted. The stalking that Kaine experiences pales in comparison.

By association and on his own strength, Joel felt much stronger than Grant Jesse who doesn’t appear to be a strong character, even though the author tried hard to speak of his strength and  bravery. Grant is supposed to have some experience as a counsellor, which is why, Kaine surmises, he can see through her and he knows exactly what is happening to her. Trouble is, we're not convinced.

The dead Danny doesn’t come alive as a character. Even when he was alive, he was rather lifeless. Of course, the only time we meet him is in Kaine’s memories and even then not so often or so vividly either. You don’t get any impression of deep love between him and Kaine.

Even stranger, she hardly meets Grant and her heart seems to pound. I couldn't understand why. Grant was thoroughly uninspiring and insipid.

There were some errors. In one place, there was the word, emblazed, instead of emblazoned. Kaine is said to have heralded from San Diego, instead of hailed from. In one place, Detective Tamara Hanson is referred to as male in one paragraph.

Patti, the librarian, is referred to, quite unnecessarily, in my opinion, as a gargoyle, while Mr Mason, the curator of the local museum, is described as adorable, in a curator sort of way. What is that supposed to mean?

The writing was okay, rather tepid, I would say. It would have greatly improved in the first person points of view of both women.

The pace was slow and repetitive. The Gothic effort that the author strove to achieve didn’t quite come off well.
Even the element of Christian faith came out as totally forced. Neither Joy nor Grant seemed convincing when they spoke about their beliefs. Their talks on faith appeared unreal. It seemed as if they were either talking in a trance, or reading from a script. No conviction at all.

I can understand Joy never reading her grandmother’s diary scribbled on the pages of Great Expectations, in deference to her wishes, but for Kaine to refrain from reading through the unidentified woman’s diary, when there could have been clues to explain the mystery there, seemed foolish.

The mystery took far too long to get resolved. The book could have been shorter and tighter. Ivy spent an excessively long period of time in feeling upset with Joel even after knowing the compulsions that had driven him away. Her personal drama kept getting in the way of the solving of the mystery.

I was rather disappointed with this one.

(I read a Kindle edition of this book through NetGalley.)

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