The House on Foster Hill
Sometimes I pick up a book on a whim and it turns out to be fantastic. The House on Foster Hill was just such a reading experience. A ‘creepy old house’ novel with a gothic feel and a dual timeline story? Well, it’s easy to see what drew me in here. The suspenseful story and addictive storytelling are what kept me going and I’m happy to recommend this book to others.
This deliciously intense tale opens in rural Wisconsin in 1906. Ivy Thorpe, daughter of the local doctor/medical examiner, has found herself assuming the role of assistant and she now accompanies her father to Foster Hill, where the body of an unidentified young woman has been discovered. Ivy is no stranger to death. She lost her beloved brother Andrew in a tragic accident and ever since, she has kept a book of the dead, memorializing the lives of those who have died in her community so that they might never be forgotten. Some in the community find Ivy’s habits morbid, but she appears driven by a passion that the dead be known and not forgotten.
At the scene where the body was discovered, Ivy receives another shock. Her brother’s childhood friend, Joel Cunningham, is there and is clearly working for the authorities in some capacity. Ivy had adored the young orphan Joel, and was devastated and he left town shortly after Andrew’s death. She never recovered from the abandonment, and his equally sudden reappearance is not easy for her.
After setting up an intriguing mystery, the author switches focus to the present day. Kaine Prescott is in the midst of driving out to Oakwood, Wisconsin, where she has bought an historic home in her family’s old hometown, sight unseen. Kaine has only a few bits and pieces of family history, but upon arriving in Oakwood, she quickly figures out that she has purchased both a home in serious disrepair and a place of deep mystery.
In some ways, this is just one more stressor for Kaine and in other ways, the distraction of solving the mysteries of Foster Hill and digging into her family background are welcome diversions. Kaine lost her husband to a mysterious accident in San Diego, and despite her protests that he had been murdered, the police did not take her seriously. After numerous incidents of being stalked, Kaine decided to leave the city for a fresh start.
After setting up both storylines, the book switches viewpoints between Ivy and Kaine. I found myself flying through the pages of this novel as the author set up the pacing beautifully. Maintaining mysteries in dual timelines is not easy but the author here transitions between time periods without losing the intensity of the story. In the 1906 storyline, we see Ivy trying to determine the identity of the mysterious young woman found near Foster Hill, even as she herself encounters great danger. And in the modern day, we see how the old Foster Hill mystery reverberates into the present day. We also follow Kaine breathlessly as it appears that her San Diego stalker may have followed her to Wisconsin.
And of course there is romance as well. While I love dual timeline stories, I do find that most will handle romance adeptly in one timeline but not the other. That is not the case here as both romantic plotlines really are compelling. My heart ached for Ivy and Joel as they tried once more to find their way to one another despite the weight of their pasts. Both of them carry a lot of pain related to Andrew’s death and Joel’s leaving, and I really wanted them to get their HEA.
Kaine’s story is engaging as well. Like Ivy, she has known a lot of pain. Her husband died young, and she mourned him deeply. When she moves into the house, not only does she find herself deeply involved in the mystery from Ivy’s day, but there are also hints of strange melodies, things left disturbed, hints that things are not as they should be. In the midst of this, Kaine finds herself with a friend and protector in town, and he really does seem like a lovely man. Their romance is something of a slow burn in comparison to the thriller pace of the mystery, but it works.
Some of the big reveals at the very end of the book are heavy-handed and overly melodramatic, but this novel is a very satisfying read overall. The secrets ultimately revealed also point readers to a modern-day problem that still happens behind closed doors in more places than we may want to admit. If you like ‘old house’ books or simply like gothic-tinged romantic suspense in general, definitely check this one out. I suspect that it will appeal to fans of inspirational fiction and secular readers alike.