Room Beneath the Stairs

A.K.A. T. E. Huff

By T. E. Huff (Jennifer Wilde)

I was eleven years old when I first saw Greycliff Island, and I immediately made it my own. I would never be able to go there, of course, but that didn’t matter. It was my private place, safe and secure, removed from all the heartbreak and sadness I had known so often in my short life. It was a symbol, and in my imagination I dwelt there like a storybook child, surrounded by warmth and beauty and the friends I had never known.

And we’re off! This book was meant to be just a placeholder while I waited for a book I really wanted to read to become available at the library. I really enjoyed the trip back in time to the days when Gothic romances were the be-all and end-all. This one was a contemporary, written and set in the ’70s when guys were “with it” and if you had sex before marriage, you were a “swinger”. I loved the short time we are with our heroine in London where she meets the man who will soon become her husband. It was their second encounter, the first being when she was an orphaned young girl living with her relatives in Cornwall. We quickly move to his forbidding mansion on a mysterious island near the coast of her old home. Something sinister and mysterious is going on, and something is wrong with her husband.

As this might as well be a template for the typical gothic, we quickly determine who the hero is. And because we know who the hero is, we also know who the villain has got to be. Hint: gothic heroes are not jovial or idle. All the plot points and set pieces fall into place. Anyone looking for surprises and twists will be disappointed.

Yet T. E. Huff can really write! I was just carried along by the atmosphere and the immediacy of the action. I felt like the author was constantly winking at me as all of the stock characters and obligatory happenings marched across the page. There is very little humor but there is a lot of fun.

Now, it seemed like a scene from a rather pedestrian horror film, wildly far fetched: heroine in darkened hall, paralyzed with fear as chilling sounds rise up from the sinister stairwell. But it had been real, all too real. The wind didn’t make that kind of noise. Neither did cats.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence or a careless anachronism that our modern-day heroine carries a candle down into the basement and not a flashlight. And her silk skirts rustle on the stairs. Because mini-skirts inconveniently don’t rustle.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone in the mood for an old-fashioned gothic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 2, 2019

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