Thursday, 9 May 2013

Book Review: BENEATH THE SHADOWS by Sara Foster

Beneath the Shadows

Title: Beneath the Shadows
Author: Sara Foster
Publisher: Random House Australia
Read: May 4-8, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):


When Grace’s husband, Adam, inherits a cottage on the isolated North Yorkshire moors, they leave London behind to try a new life. However, a week later, Adam vanishes, leaving their baby daughter on the doorstep.

The following year, Grace returns to the tiny village of Roseby. She is desperate for answers, but it seems the slumbering village is unwilling to give up its secrets. As Grace learns more about the locals and the area's superstitions and folklore, strange dreams begin to trouble her. Are the villagers hiding something, or is she becoming increasingly paranoid? Only as snowfall threatens to cut them off from the rest of the world does Grace begin to understand how close the threat lies, and that she and her daughter may be in terrible danger if she cannot get them away in time.

My thoughts: 

Grace has some misgivings when her husband Adam moves her and their baby daughter Millie from London to his grandparents’ cottage in the remote village of Roseby on the Yorkshire moors to escape the rat race, but has agreed to give it six months to see if she can adapt to the isolation. One cold winter’s day Adam fails to return from his walk with Millie – Grace finds the baby abandoned in her stroller in front of the house, with no sign of her husband anywhere. With Adam’s passport missing and his recent withdrawal of a large sum of money from their bank account, the police are certain that Adam has planned his disappearance. Shattered and heartbroken, Grace flees to the sanctuary of her parents’ home to come to terms with the loss of her partner.

One year later, Grace still has not had any answers regarding Adam’s disappearance. With Adam being missing, not dead, she feels in limbo, unable to move on or sell any of their assets. She returns to Roseby with the plan to clean out the cottage and use it as a holiday rental and extra income source. However, once back in Yorkshire, Grace is once again overcome by the events of the past – and furthermore, the cottage seems to have a strange hold on her, with mysterious happenings in the night and new discoveries which once again make Grace doubt that her husband really disappeared from her life willingly.

I loved the premise of the novel and the blurb’s promise of a good gothic mystery on the Yorkshire moors. Having briefly visited that part of England, I was looking forward to cozying up with my book under the doona whilst a storm was raging outside, and give myself goosebumps with stories of old English haunted houses and eerie windswept moors.

Sadly the book did not quite live up to my expectations. Personally, the problem I have with Foster’s books is that she gives away too much too soon, which totally destroys the mystery and robs the story of much of its suspense. Whilst the seeds of suspense and mystery were sown early in Foster’s atmospheric descriptions of the Yorkshire moors and the hints of ghostly happenings, these were fast dispelled by the change of focus on the rather predictable relationship developing between Grace and Ben. Grace, who seems rather timid and not one for action, further stalled the story by not doing much at all other than mourning Adam and tending to the baby – which in reality is probably true, but doesn’t make for very compelling reading. Give me a plucky heroine in the mould of S. J. Bolton’s mysteries (which have similar settings) any time! Grace was just a bit too – boring (there, I have said it). She could have strapped a baby carrier to her back, combed the village for answers and been caught up in some action – the backbones of a solid mystery were there, they just needed some charismatic characters to keep the reader interested. Instead, all characters seemed a bit too two-dimensional, stereotypical and – I will say it again – boring, and their relationships predictable.

All in all, the book was readable enough but in my own personal opinion did not live up to its full potential – which is especially frustrating when the underlying premise of the novel was solid and could have offered so much more! Recommended for an easy holiday read, but not if you want heart-pounding gothic action-suspense-mystery in the mould of S. J. Bolton's Awakening (English setting), or closer to home, Honey Brown's Dark Horse (Australian setting).

This book forms part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

If there are any chilling gothic suspense stories you could recommend, please leave a comment below, I would be keen for any reading suggestions - thanks!

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