An Excellent Thriller With Just One Disappointment
When the man claiming to be Dr John Shepherd arrives at a mental hospital for women on an isolated New England island in the 1890’s we share his horror at the inhuman treatments provided for the patients by his new employer, the martinet Morgan and his sadistic female sidekick O’Reilly.
The Gothic building set in parkland provides a perfect backdrop for sinister goings on with plenty of creaking doors and dark corridors inhabited by a silent presence as Shepherd settles into his psychiatric role. He offers a benevolent moral treatment to the enigmatic Jane Dove (“the girl who couldn’t read” of the title) in an attempt to prove to Morgan that there is an alternative to the hospital’s wicked and tyrannical remedies.
The author creates an extremely evocative picture of the stark and grim institution especially as the winter chill sets in and the novel has the true feel of a period piece with a nod to The Brontes (particularly Jane Eyre), Poe and Henry James. The reader becomes enthralled in the Shakespeare loving and highly literate narrator’s story and, little by little, discovers more about his true nature.
Although billed as a sequel to the wonderful Florence & Giles, the novel stands on its own. I would certainly recommend that you read the prequel as it is quite excellent but it would make little difference if you read it before or after reading this.
Although billed as a literary thriller, it is not verbose or wordy but is written in a clear, concise and urgent style that grips you and compels you to read on. It is a thriller of the highest order.
And the one disappointment in my review title? It’s the disappointment that I have finished the book and will struggle to find something as engaging to read next.