Abigail is a maidservant in Greave Hall, an elegant London household governed by the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs Cotton. Whilst the widowed master slips slowly into madness, Mrs Cotton gradually usurps the position of gentlewoman of the house. She wears his dead wife’s jewellery and clothes, entertains guests as though the house is her own and reserves her most despotic treatment for Abi.
In the dead of night, Abi makes a desperate bid for freedom, but is soon captured and returned to Greave Hall. As Mrs Cotton’s malice intensifies, a ghostly presence distracts Abi with clues to a deadly secret. And Abi now realises that she can trust no one in the house.
Don't be put off by the size of this book, it's not the biggest but it's crammed with gothic goodness and atmosphere. The book opens with Abi running away from Greave Hall. Once returned by police it becomes clear that Abi has an unenviable position as Mrs Cotton's most hated servant. Abi's days start at 5.30 and go on until 9.00 with little chance for personal time. Although this was the case for many servants in this period Abi has more than hard work to cope with. Her mother, a servant at the same house, died a year before and since then Abi has been dealing with the grief and Mrs Cotton's persecution.
It soon becomes apparent that something else is going on at Greave Hall. The master is struggling with insanity and often refuses to leave his room. The house already has a feeling of uncertainty and menace. One night Abi wakes to find her window open and the room freezing. When she gets up to close it a hand reaches in and grabs her wrist. Poor Abi screams and wrenches her arm free only to get into trouble for waking Mrs Cotton. From this point onwards the house, or something within it, makes it clear that something awful has happened. Along with the escalation of the spirit's activity, Mrs Cotton becomes more evil with every passing day; she's a classic love-to-hate character. The secondary characters of Lizzy, Rob and Samuel are all well-formed and loyal. I was relieved after reading the synopsis that Abi actually had some friends at Greave Hall to provide a little lightness in the book.
I loved this book from beginning to end. Every page is loaded with suspense and terror. I was genuinely chilled at times - the scene where Abi discovers a photograph that had been left to develop was wonderful. Abi is likeable and resourceful; the steps she takes to try to discover more about the presence in the house are believable. She drives the book along with her desire to find the truth. I sat down one morning expecting to read a few chapters but got to a point where I had to know what happened and was turning the pages like a maniac. This is a perfect ghost story, beautifully told.