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I can’t deny it; I enjoy a good ghost story. But the kind of ghost story I particularly like isn’t the scary kind. No stalking specters or grinning ghouls for me!
No, I’m most partial to a ghost story where the ghost is more of a framing device, used as a bridge between the past and the present.
Barbara Michaels used to do this kind of story very well, interweaving history and the modern day. Nowadays, the author I look to for this kind of book is Susannah Kearsley. My favorite of her books still remains the first one I ever picked up, “The Shadowy Horses.” Recently, the library acquired Kearsley’s newest book, “Bellewether” — her first book in three years — and a few weekends ago I settled down with it with the contented anticipation of a trusted author’s latest work.
As with many of her novels, the story is framed through two viewpoints. We start off in the present day, where Charley Van Hoek has come to take over management of Wilde House, a historic house museum in Long Island, but the story soon ties in with that of Lydia Wilde, who lived in that same house in 1759.
Both women are dealing with change and grief: Charley with a new job and new life after the loss of her beloved brother, Lydia with the arrival of unwelcome outsides and the death of her mother. And both are forced into contact with people who challenge their negative perceptions, from Charley’s estranged grandmother, to Lydia’s despised — but regrettably attractive — French prisoner of war. As their stories alternate, they intertwine until long lost mysteries are revealed and new beginnings are made.
I particularly enjoyed the choice of time period for the historic half of this book; the American Revolution is very well-represented in fiction, but the period of the French and Indian War is far less so. Kearsley did a very good job with her characters here, setting up a cast that reacts to the events from many different perspectives, from the prisoner of war, to the brother scarred by his own war experiences, to the merchant treading the thin line between trade and treason.
It’s a fascinating period well-suited to a story of changing perceptions, as the Colonies themselves are beginning to feel the faint rumblings of oncoming revolution. I especially appreciated her handling of the character of Benjamin Wilde. In the present day, he is very much the historical focus, the Revolutionary War hero the museum is based around, but in the past he is still just a hot-headed younger brother, years away from martial glory.
Overall, I found this latest offering from Kearsley moved at a relaxing pace, lacking the buildup of tension of her earlier works. Her prose is just as fluid as ever, though, and the story slips down smooth and easy as a glass of iced tea. While I think I like some of her other works better, this was still a very enjoyable read for anyone who wants something light and easy with a touch of history.
Genevieve Baillie is the extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.