Whether or not you believe in ghosts, Carol Goodman’s Gothic mystery – The Widow’s House – might challenge your peace of mind. The psychological suspense thriller is set in the Hudson Valley of New York with an unreliable narrator defying a host of chilling affronts.
When Claire and Jess Martin decide to move from their Brooklyn apartment to upstate New York near the farm where Claire grew up, they find the only affordable accommodations are as caretakers to an old crumbling mansion named Riven House belonging to their former college professor, also a writer. Jess, having published his first book soon after graduating from college, has spent years looking for inspiration for his second, while Claire, an aspiring writer herself, abandoned her dreams to write to work as a copy editor to support them both. When the money from Jess’s advance finally runs out, the Martins—now in their mid-thirties—are forced to move back upstate.
The house is clearly the Gothic replica of Thornfield Hall from Jane Eyre but soon takes on the characteristics of the Hitchcock setting in Gaslight or Shirley Jackson’s Hill House; its history includes a series of tragedies and is thought haunted by the locals. As Claire researches the house’s former occupants for her own novel, she is soon terrorized by their ghosts.
Goodman cleverly inserts doubt about Claire’s mental health, perhaps confirming the reader’s unwillingness to believe in the paranormal phenomenon appearing in the mist. Claire’s sanity is placed in question by revealing her nervous breakdown earlier, and her tendency to edit her own life, remaking it to something better and overlooking her traumas and losses of the past. As people begin to die at Riven House, Clare’s grip on reality becomes suspect, and the reader has to decide who to believe.
Like her other Gothic mystery romances, Goodman’s The Widow’s House combines supernatural possibilities with the reality of human cruelty and misery. In the end, you aren’t quite sure what the truth is, although Goodman provides a sane possibility. The captivating tale will haunt you and you will love every moment.
I am a fan of Goodman, having read all her novels from The Lake of Dead Languages to River Road. As a bonus, Goodman offered a list of books that have inspired her in her notes at the end of the book. You might look for one when you are in the mood for another chilling mystery.
Goodman’s List of Favorite Haunted House Stories:
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
- The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
- The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Reviews of Other Carol Goodman Books: