As soon as Kerstin Kvist arrives at remote, ivy-covered Lydstep Old Hall in Essex, she feels like a character in a gothic novel. A young nurse fresh out of school, Kerstin has been hired for a position with the Cosway family, residents of the Hall for generations. She is soon introduced to her “charge,” John Cosway, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose strange behavior is vaguely explained by his mother and sisters as part of the madness that runs in the family.

Weeks go by at Lydstep with little to mark the passage of time beyond John’s daily walks and the amusingly provincial happenings that engross the Cosway women, and Kerstin occupies her many free hours at the Hall reading or making entries into her diary. Meanwhile, bitter wrangling among Julia Cosway and her four grown daughters becomes increasingly evident. But this is just the most obvious of the tensions that charge the old remote estate, with its sealed rooms full of mystery. Soon Kerstin will find herself in possession of knowledge she will wish she’d never attained, secrets that will propel the occupants of Lydstep Old Hall headlong into sexual obsession, betrayal, and, finally, murder.


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“One of the most remarkable novelists of her generation.” —People

“The best mystery writer in the English-speaking world.” —Time

“My dream writer. Her crime studies are subtle, mysterious affairs that never turn out quite the way you anticipate. Her characters have secret, often ugly depths that make them strangers with uncomfortably familiar features. And her prose style, so intricate in design and supple in execution, has the disquieting intimacy of an alien touch in the dark.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

“Surely one of the greatest novelists presently at work in our language.” —Scott Turow

“Those who haven’t read her books have missed something unique and wonderful.” —Tony Hillerman

“Barbara Vine has transcended her genre by her remarkable imaginative power to explore and illuminate the dark corners of the human psyche.” —P. D. James

“Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time. She magnificently triumphs in a style that is uniquely hers and mesmerizing.” —Patricia Cornwell

“Her clear, shapely prose casts the mesmerizing spell of the confessional.” —The New Yorker

“One of the finest practitioners of her craft in the English-speaking world.” —The New York Times Book Review


From the Hardcover edition.