Title: The Lost Ones
Author: Anita Frank
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Horror
Word/Page Count: 464 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Harper Collins Publishers on October 21st, 2019
RRP: $32.99 AUD (paperback)
Some houses are never at peace.
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.
Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.
Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…
The Lost Ones takes the typical haunted house trope and elevates it to the next level with an atmospheric historical setting, smart lyrical writing, refreshingly unexpected plot developments and compelling characters that the reader will invest in.
Our protagonist Stella has been in mourning for her fiance and is valiantly resisting attempts by her mother and family doctor to incarcerate her in an asylum for hysterical women over her ongoing display of grief. When she has the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister at the Greywick mansion to help ease her stress, it seems like the perfect getaway – except that Madeleine is convinced there is paranormal activity taking place…and before long, Stella herself begins to witness inexplicable events.
The 1917 time period works well for juxtaposing the old-fashioned values and morals of the majority of the cast against Stella’s more modern attitude with her sense of independence and bold behavior justified by her background as a battlefield nurse during World War 1. It’s easy to feel her frustration and outrage at having her opinions dismissed and her feelings treated as an inconvenience because she’s not conforming to expectations and allowing men to speak for her or determine her path. This is part of a larger theme in The Lost Ones which focuses on women fighting to regain their agency and the struggle to express their true selves without being punished for it, but also highlights women who are comfortable in enforcing the status quo and the harm it causes those in less privileged positions.
What’s very refreshing about this story is that most of the main characters are women and each is portrayed with a multi-faceted personality, complex backstory and hidden motivations with ambiguous secrets and desires that drive them to interact with each other in a myriad of ways. Occupying Greywick is its domineering matriarch, Lady Brightwell, with her faithful bubbly companion, Miss Scott, and somber coolly efficient housekeeper, Mrs Henge, as well as Madeline, the beleaguered sister experiencing spooky phenomenon. And for her sojourn to the country, Stella brings along Annie, a mysterious maid with very odd personality quirks that hint at secrets in their shared past. These ladies shift back and forth between being antagonists to allies or vice versa as the mystery deepens and Stella’s investigation ruffles feathers in the household.
While the menfolk mostly occupy the background, there are still notable male characters present in Gerald, whose courtship of Stella we see in sweet romantic flashbacks, and Mr Sheers who is brought in to debunk the idea of ghosts and hauntings. I appreciated that the dead fiance wasn’t merely contrived to saddle Stella with an angsty backstory and that he was present in her thoughts throughout the story to give us an idea of the man who shaped her character and show her growth as she moves through the grieving process. Mr Sheers is yet another ambiguous character who vacillates between being friend or foe; his agenda at Greywick is to help resolve the heightened emotions and ‘hysteria’ over spirits supposedly wreaking havoc, but obviously his skeptical viewpoint conflicts with Stella and Madeleine who were already fighting a losing battle to convince the family they aren’t going insane. Stella investigating the mysterious goings-on with the skeptical Mr Sheers and sullen close-mouthed Annie is a recipe for much tension and drama!
The Lost Ones intermittently surprised me by eschewing a few of the usual horror genre cliches and choosing to quickly wrap up or outright subvert certain plot points to pursue lesser common paths. That made this story feel fresh and exciting due to its unpredictability, such as deciding to combine ghostly shenanigans with a mystery thriller plot – it’s like if Agatha Christie co-wrote with Susan Hill! The ghost story is the main attraction, but equally engrossing is its exploration of the complex relationships between the main characters and those secrets they keep hidden, whether out of love or fear or guilt. This beautifully written tale will transport you to the gloomy ominous mansion in the 1900s, anxiously peering down its murky hallways and brain working furiously as you attempt to puzzle out the mystery at its dark rotten core.
For a haunting gothic story perfectly timed so you can enjoy it over the spooky season, you really must pick up this book!
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.