On a foggy morning in Puget Sound, Hallie James finds her life forever changed by a simple letter. The letter is from a lawyer on Grand Manitou Island in the Great Lakes, and it states that she has been left everything by her mother --- a woman Hallie thought was already dead.
Hallie decides to confront her father, the man who raised her and a person she has great respect for, but he is suffering from Alzheimer’s and now barely remembers her on good days. She knows she can't ask anyone else and needs to know the truth --- did her mother really die in the fire like her father told her? When Hallie tells him about the letter, his response is simple and startling: “Madyln wrote to you?” Hallie had always thought her mother's name was Annie.
Hallie's father passes away a few days later, and she is left to deal not only with the death of her father who loved and raised her but also with the death of a mother she didn't know and can't remember. On a whim she calls the lawyer, packs a bag, and leaves for Grand Manitou Island not knowing what she will find but wanting to know about the life that was taken from her. Her mother's attorney sets her up in a small island inn and asks her not to tell anyone who she is until she meets with him. She goes along with the plan but finds it hard. Many of the island residents are nosy, some off-putting, and others even rude, which begins to worry her.
The attorney, Will, shares all the details of her short life on the island, including information about the murder of a child at her mother's house. Her father was considered the main suspect, but shortly after the accusation was made, Hallie and her father disappeared in a kayaking accident, and the crime was left unsolved. She has trouble believing that he was capable of killing and resolves to find out the details of the incident and what happened that caused him to take her away.
Hallie makes the decision to stay on the island and moves into her mother's house. While there, she sees and experiences things that worry her, like a small child in a white dress who sings a childhood song to her. Afraid to tell anyone she thinks she might be seeing ghosts and losing her mind, she keeps it all to herself and chalks it up to stress. Her relationship with Will starts to blossom, and she's beginning to learn a lot about her family's history from her mother's housekeeper, Iris. When some very strange things occur, she breaks down and tells Will what's been happening at the house. He thinks she might be suffering from too much stress. But when a bizarre accident forces Will to believe Hallie, the two concoct a plan they hope will put an end to the suffering that occurred at the house and move on with their new lives.
I really enjoyed this book. It moves fast, and the whole time you're wondering where it will lead. Hallie's family stories, told to her by an ancient housekeeper who seems otherworldly, weave a good mystery for Hallie to unravel. The paranormal aspect isn't distracting and becomes the drawing force in the story. Author Wendy Webb doesn't let too much slip, and the twist at the end is a nice reward for the reader.
On the downside, the story seemed to rush to the end for me, but it may have been simply my reluctance to see it conclude. I do think it could have benefited from some extra pages just to add a few more details. Several things end up taking place way too fast without much explanation as to why. But it didn't take anything away from the story since Webb adds a lot of suspense and creepiness with a great backstory. The ghosts, supernatural events and an old Victorian house full of secrets keep the story moving, and Webb tells a good tale.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 23, 2011