The Shape of Night
Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen takes a break from her popular Rizzoli and Isles mystery series with The Shape of Night, a standalone thriller about a girl, a house and a very alluring ghost.
Nearly incapacitated by guilt, stagnated cookbook author Ava Collette takes a summer rental in a remote, seaside village in Maine, hoping the fresh air and peaceful country existence will reignite her creative fires. But her first sight of her vacation cottage is an unpleasant surprise. Travelling up an isolated, fog ridden driveway she finds herself facing not a welcoming, cozy retreat but a foreboding, secluded and strangely unwelcoming mansion. Brodie’s Watch, the home of a former sea captain, seems almost menacing as she approaches it, as though the residence is rejecting her presence. She’s tempted to just walk away and find another place to stay.
That quickly changes when she opens the door and feels an unseen presence assess and then accept her. In that moment, as she takes her first tentative steps into her temporary refuge, she feels as though someone or something has decided to extend the full hospitality of the abode to her. Suddenly, she is enchanted by the thought of staying – and then she meets the ghost.
She recognizes Captain Jeremiah Brodie from the painting of him in the house but he seems more flesh and blood than spectre. She can feel his hands when they caress her, hear his voice as he speaks to her of pleasure – and pain. His sole purpose seems to be a BDSM style of seduction. Night time finds her swooning at his touch,and anxiously awaiting his every visit but the dawn brings doubts, making Ava skeptical and scared of what is happening. Reaching out to Help for the Haunted. Professional Ghost Investigations, Maine, she asks them to find information on who or what is sharing the dwelling with her. The kindly, efficient Maeve Cerridwyn responds and researches Brodie’s Watch – and makes a disturbing discovery. Since the Captain’s death, only women have lived there, each of them becoming increasingly isolated from family and friends until they die alone in the manse.
“Here in my house what you seek is what you will find,” Captain Brodie tells Ava. But there is peril behind those beguiling words – for maybe, in some dark part of herself, Ava seeks not redemption from her sins but punishment for them. Has she handed herself over to some macabre form of phantasmal justice or is a flesh and blood predator at work, hiding behind a fantasy, preparing to mete out the judgment Ava deeply believes she deserves?
Ms. Gerritsen is a consummate professional whose skillful prose quickly hooks readers into her story and doesn’t release them until the last page. She has created an intriguing heroine in Ava, a smart, talented woman who is also a touch cold and reclusive. We know she did something disturbing in her past – information about this event is slowly doled out in dollops throughout the first part of the tale – and we know she hurt someone she loved badly as a result of her actions. What we don’t know is what she did or why. We also know she has a self-confessed drinking problem and consumes copious quantities of alcohol, mainly at night, to help her sleep. That’s part of what drives her to seek Maeve’s help – could some sort of drunken stupor be causing her to imagine Captain Brodie or worse, could someone be taking advantage of her inebriated state to deceive her? I liked that Ava was practical enough not to immediately accept the idea of a haunted house but also open minded enough to accept the possibility of one.
Complicating the situation is the body that washes up on shore early during Ava’s tenancy. In addition to some of the mysterious deaths that have taken place in the village over the last several decades (which the townspeople seem more concerned with covering up than with solving) the appearance of this corpse has Ava wondering if some kind of deadly menace is actively stalking the people of this solitary community. And if so, why?
And yet, even with all of that going on, she finds herself mesmerized by the Captain, easily beguiled by his presence and eager to participate in the ‘games’ he invites her to. The part of her that sees the cold light of reason in the day is no match for the enchanting seducer she faces in the night. It was this push and pull that kept me engaged in the tale. I found myself as fascinated by Captain Brodie as Ava was, as eager to spend time with him as she was. He was tantalizing, strong and handsome and drawn with an eerie eroticism that made him irresistible.
The book has only one flaw, which was that the practical, day time mystery sometimes didn’t blend well with the chilling, atmospheric nature of the house and its environs. It disrupted the sense of eminent supernatural danger that typically accompanies the gothic tale. That doesn’t keep it from being a very readable, riveting narrative though.
Part mystery and part gothic, Shape of Night is a spooky tale, perfect for fall reading. The forlorn setting and descriptions of the fog ridden, cool climate will have you reaching for a cup of something hot and the deliciously chilling story will have you snuggling into your favorite comfy chair, secure in the knowledge that you’re safe and cozy, even if the heroine isn’t. This novel is that perfect blend of scary but not too scary and I think readers searching for a (mildly) creepy Halloween season read will find exactly what they are looking for in this book.