Neil Sadler, a grieving and worn-weary New Yorker, returns to his small hometown in Mason, Ohio, to do some remodeling of a family-owned estate. What Neil hadn't banked on was that his still-broken heart would be called upon to face down a two-decade old murder mystery that threatened to reopen wounds and would take emotional courage of the fiercest kind. Neil's intent was to travel back to simply help out a cousin...or was it? After arriving and taking a look-see at the old place dubbed "The Gothic Horror," Neil realizes how powerful memories can be --- and how mightily they force their presence into every corner of the present.
Reminiscing about one's childhood and teen years is almost always a mixed bag affair, composed of bittersweet pain and perhaps select measured delights; sadly, in Neil's case, this principle holds true. Yet, while simultaneously inspecting various rooms in the Horror and reflecting back, Neil is curiously amused upon finding what he first supposes is a dead body in the upstairs bedroom. Only it isn't a corpse, it's his ancient Uncle Bernie whose faint rising and falling chest clues Neil in that he isn't yet deceased. Opening his eyes, Bernie glibly states that he is "in position" to meet his Maker.
Only months after the unexpected death of his wife Caroline, Neil believes his heart is mending. What he hasn't considered is how an interloper in the guise of an old friend who very well could have been Mrs. Sadler might slip into Neil's heart once more. Still, Mary Beeken is now a married woman with two children. True enough, Mary's husband isn't behaving like he wants much from Mary these days. But circumstances being what they are, Mary tries to be generous and understanding. Though distant and troubled, Mary's policeman spouse presents a moral obstacle for both Mary and Neil. Two lonely troubled hearts with a penchant for remembering what might have been stirs the waters as they continue to be thrown together.
It was murder --- specifically, the murder of Mary's mother --- that preempted Neil's departure to New York and Mary's perhaps too-sudden decision to marry another man after Neil left. With fresh evidence from old enemies and counsel from wise friends, Mary and Neil search out the truth to put the past to rest once and for all. Tenuously they press ahead, each guarded and wounded. Still, between the two of them, Mary and Neil do unearth enough facts to puzzle together the truth. When they do, both are somehow freed up to continue their lives more fully whole than ever before.
Ann Tatlock's work is consistently an engaging and enticing read. Her dialogue is fresh and inviting, and her characters are disarmingly genuine as they struggle to contend with emotions and difficulties so common to the human heart. What is especially difficult to achieve --- though Tatlock seems to do so effortlessly --- is to allow her characters the room for mistakes, for error, and yet they maintain their integrity in a way that is believably hopeful. Readers will find this newest work a wonderful addition to this author's previous novels and likely will feel a renewed restfulness in spirit as they consider their own life's journey through the ups, downs, and all the in-betweens.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on January 1, 2006