When a book is inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s classic REBECCA, you know it is going to be darkly romantic and full of perplexing secrets. In Cassandra King’s hands, the bones of the story remain, but the setting is new and the characters are differently motivated, making MOONRISE feel both fresh and familiar.
Helen Honeycutt is a divorced Florida native in her mid-40s. Having recently moved to Fort Lauderdale to put her disastrous marriage behind her, she meets magnetic television journalist Emmet Justice. Emmet has come to Fort Lauderdale to put his past behind him, as well. His wife of many years, Rosalyn, died in a car accident just months earlier, and he has been struggling emotionally ever since. The chemistry between Helen and Emmet is immediate, and despite her wariness and his grief, their brief but intense romance leads quickly to marriage.
"MOONRISE is a compelling and readable novel, and is a nice companion for brisk fall evenings or stormy nights."
The story really begins at Moonrise, the Victorian mansion deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains that Emmet inherited from his late wife. Helen is understandably curious about Emmet’s life with Rosalyn and the close friends they shared. When she finds pictures of Moonrise, she seems to come under its spell. She hopes a summer at the estate will bring her closer to Emmet and his friends, as well as an understanding of who Rosalyn was. Though Emmet is none too keen to spend time at Moonrise, even if it neighbors the summer homes of his closest friends, he agrees to go.
Helen’s greatest fears are realized at Moonrise: Emmet’s friends are cold and judgmental, and the house is eerie and frightening. Kit and Tansy, who had been Rosalyn’s best friends, resent Helen’s marriage to Emmet and her presence at Moonrise. But it’s the noises and shadows that really scare Helen, especially when she is alone in the huge, cold house, overlooking the neglected nocturnal garden where Rosalyn’s ashes are buried. As the weeks go by, the tensions between Helen and Emmet mount, and Helen continues to have trouble fitting into the elite and snobby summer scene in Highlands, the wealthy and cultured town just a short distance from Moonrise. Her continuing obsession with Rosalyn’s mysterious death worries her as much as the specters she believes to be living with her at Moonrise.
Cleverly, King gives readers more than just Helen’s perspective; she switches among three first-person narratives so we also know the thoughts of Tansy and Willa McFee, the “mountain woman” who acts as caretaker for Moonrise and quiet witness to the lives of the Justice family and their privileged social circle. Each narrative voice is distinct and privy to information the others lack, while the movement from one narrator to the other, chapter by chapter, is smooth. Fans of Southern Gothic novels will be happy with King’s blend of romance and suspense. Helen is not always a strong or likable character, even though she is at the center of the story, but her weaknesses allow a lot of the drama to unfold.
By the end of the book, it has become less of a ghost story and more about jealousy and sabotage of a different kind than we read in REBECCA, thus both mimicking and moving farther away from the du Maurier model. King uses setting to her advantage; the woods and lakes, mountains and skies of the Ashville area come to life, sometimes sinister and other times radiant.
MOONRISE is a compelling and readable novel, and is a nice companion for brisk fall evenings or stormy nights.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 6, 2013