In 1922 London, Sarah Piper is a poor temp worker, barely making ends meet. So when she is offered an assignment that requires going to a country village as assistant to Alistair Gellis, a ghost hunter, she sees no option other than to take it. Gellis seems harmless enough, even though his belief in ghosts makes him foolish in Piper’s eyes. Gellis’s regular assistant has been called away to attend a family illness.
The story they are presented with when they get to Waringstoke is that a servant girl, Maddy Clare, who had turned up years before one night, filthy, beaten and unable to talk and was taken in by the Clare’s, cared for, given their name, and made into a servant for light work, had committed suicide in the barn and was now haunting said barn. Mrs. Clare is frightened of her and wants her spirit gone. Much to Sarah’s shock, the ghost is very real, very angry and very powerful- and she hates men as much in death as she did in life.
What follows is a paranormal detective story, with Sarah, Gellis, and Gellis’s returned assistant, Matthew Ryder, trying to find out who Maddy was and how she had turned up on the Clare’s doorstep in the condition she was in. Someone is trying to discourage them from investigating, and a face from Alistair’s past has turned up in town.
In most ways, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a good mystery, and the mystery is blended with the paranormal well. I really liked Sarah Piper; she is strong and independent without being too modern for the time the story is set in. And while I liked Matthew for the most part, his relationship with Sarah starts out pretty creepily for my taste. The excuse is that Matthew (and Alistair, too) suffer from PTSD from the Great War, but that doesn’t it any more palatable when he enters Sarah’s room and has sex with her without having a word with her about it- and then telling her he won’t be back. Now, the sex *is* consensual, but he has no way of knowing how she feels; he just mounts her. Since he’s portrayed as a good, if damaged, person in the rest of the novel, one assumes (hopes) that he would have stopped if Sarah had said anything.
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