On the Edge of the Woods
Gothics are back in vogue again, and I am certainly glad for that. Diane Tyrrel’s debut certainly brings back hints of Gothic romances of earlier days, but still has a strong voice of its own. And though On the Edge of the Woods has a few rough spots, it is ultimately a very enjoyable and mildly chilling read.
Architect Stacy Addison, the narrator of this first person story, recently broke up with her boyfriend and, as part of that breakup, realizes that she yearns to live a life quite different than her day-to-day existence in San Francisco. With that in mind she purchases a turn-of-the-century mansion in the Sierras that she plans to renovate with help from her contractor brother.
Upon purchasing the house Stacy soon makes the acquaintance of her neighbors. She is intrigued by Brand Vandevere, but put off by rumors that he may have gone too far in attempting to secure the mansion for himself. Stacy also befriends Brand’s housemates, Tess and Saul, the latter of whom is a handsome young man instantly attracted to Stacy.
As Stacy settles into her new home, she learns more about both its history and that of previous owner Madelon Shapiro, an elderly lady now living in a nursing home who had a most unusual life in her beloved old house. In addition, Stacy becomes the target of uncanny accidents, prank telephone calls, and other unsettling incidents. These happenings, combined with her tangled relationships with Saul and Brand, create a great deal of anxiety for her.
While Stacy is certain of her love for her new home, she is far less certain in her romantic life. The urbane Saul and his more rugged housemate Brand both hold allure for Stacy on first meeting. However, rumors abound regarding both men. Stacy worries about these rumors even as she finds herself being drawn to both, particularly the disturbingly magnetic Brand. Additionally, her initial unsettled feelings about the happenings around her, eventually evolve into outright terror.
Creating a slow burn of passion and terror is where Tyrrel excels. The author’s writing creates a flowing story in which the tension gradually notches up until it reaches a point where you don’t want to put the book down. The setting is beautiful and refreshing, but is also subtly touched with danger. The characters are engaging, but one can also feel the slight hint of danger emanating from several of them – never anything overt, just hints. This smooth building of mood and tension is marred in only a few places in the second half of the book, primarily at points where Stacy leaves the mansion, thereby breaking up the building suspense.
The ending, and its revelation of secrets, is also a little bit rough – it isn’t bad, mind you, but it isn’t as strong as the preceding first three-quarters of the book. I got the feeling that the author created a mystery and built so much tension that it was difficult to control by the end, with the result that the ending seems a touch abrupt. Still, this is the sort of thing that the author will probably smooth out with experience.
Overall, On the Edge of the Woods a satisfying Gothic romance. Even with its rough spots, something about the narrator’s voice reminded me of early Barbara Michaels. Those who like the slow-moving, slightly spooky mood of Gothic romance will probably enjoy this one.