Tessa felt relieved when the door opened to reveal the cheerful countenance of a plump, ruddy-faced woman. “May I help you, miss?” the woman inquired, smiling.
“I’m Tessa Field, Aunt Emily’s niece, just arrived from America.”
“Oh, of course. Please come in. We’ve been expecting you. I’m Maggie, the housekeeper. Come this way, and I’ll show you to the parlor.”
Tessa was about to tell her she already knew the way, but Maggie turned smartly on her heels and waddled down the hallway. Tessa followed the housekeeper along the familiar oak-paneled walls. The ticking of the massive grandfather clock echoed solemnly in the hall as it had for generations. They passed the gallery of Bramble Hill’s ancestors, including Lord Walthingham and his beautiful Lady Rose, rumored by local folk to haunt the cliffs at Seaborn Point where they fell to their deaths a century ago. She noticed that the portrait of her aunt had been moved from its usual place. Aunt Emily now smiled benevolently from the end of the hall.
“You’re just in time for tea,” Maggie said. “Please make yourself comfortable here whilst I finish preparing it.”
Tessa sat in the brown leather chair beside the massive stone fireplace where a toasty fire crackled. She thought of the many evenings she had cuddled in her aunt’s lap while she read Cornish folk tales of fairies, witches, and elves. Tessa was glad to see the old pianoforte in the corner where it had always been. She should have felt safe and comfortable here beside the fire’s warmth, but a strange chill pervaded the room. Always a cheerfully decorated room, awash in sunlight from the expansive lead-paned windows, the parlor now was dark and gloomy. Everything else in the room was unfamiliar to her. The chintz-covered settee had been reupholstered in somber, scratchy tweed. Gone was the gay pink and gold striped wallpaper she remembered. The walls were now papered in a gaudy red and green tartan plaid. It reminded her of a horse blanket. Tessa noticed the painting that now hung above the piano in place of the peaceful seascape of Covington Harbor she recalled from years past. It depicted a pack of deerhounds felling a doe. The dogs’ teeth sank deep in the bloodied flank of their prey, and their feral eyes appeared to glitter wildly in the fire’s reflection. Aunt Emily would have thought the artwork to be in poor taste for this genteel parlor where she had often entertained her guests. Tessa thought one of her own amateur paintings would have even been an improvement over this one. Aunt Emily always encouraged her young niece’s love for art by allowing her to explore the countryside for hours with the watercolor paint box and brushes she gave her one summer while visiting. It was on one of those afternoons while painting a seascape from high atop the cliffs overlooking the harbor that she had first met Peter. She smiled, remembering their meeting and how he was writing poetry in a journal but was too embarrassed to admit it to her. Boys didn’t write poems! Tessa arose from the chair and sat down at the piano, trying her best to ignore the ugly painting above it. She gently lifted the fall and rested her fingers on the keys, testing the tone by playing several chords. The piano seemed slightly out of tune, like everything else in the room, but the sound was not unpleasant to her ear. She tried to remember some songs she used to play and thought of one that Aunt Emily had taught her. “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.” Singing that song brought a flood of happy memories of balmy summer evenings, parties, and music. Sounds of laughter and clinking glasses could be heard throughout the house in those days. Bramble Hill and its inhabitants seemed untouched by the war, at least to a child. After Aunt Emily had tucked her in for the night, the little girl tiptoed downstairs and hid behind the open parlor doors where she could peek at the guests unnoticed. How she admired the lovely ladies with their elegant gowns and sparkling diamonds. She thought they looked like flowers blooming in the garden. The soft rustle of their petticoats was the whisper of spring rain on the heath. Even now, she fancied she could hear the echo of laughter and idle chatter of guests as they smoked their Player’s cigarettes in jeweled holders. In her mind’s eye, she saw them gathered in a sing-along around the piano while Aunt Emily played and Uncle Georgie sang in his rich baritone voice. After her uncle died during the war, the summer parties did, too. Suddenly, Tessa stopped playing. The piano’s resonant tones trailed off, and the room was once more as silent as a grave.
Of course, the ghosts and the seance, as well as the main character's psychic gifts, does lend the delightful paranormal into the mix of murder, romance, and historically seeing the world in the mid-'90s. I read it in one sitting...and loved it...The author has a wonderful talent in her writing so that the story moves somewhat slowly, while we capture her delightful background settings, while still maintaining a solid suspense in our minds as we consider and reconsider who did what to solve the mystery...
Sometimes I pick up the murderer intuitively through the writing, which I did this time, always delights me, but the writer wasn't satisfied that you might solve the crime before she wants you to...and adds a defining twist that heightens the suspense... Did I say I loved it? Of course I don't "love" every book, because a book has to be a certain blend of personal likes to respond to your own choices for entertainment, doesn't it...
Sadly, it was the death of her beloved Aunt Emily that brought Tessa back to Bramble Hill. Not only had she lost her last family member, but also a close friend. She had been disturbed that she was apparently lost on a boating accident, since Emily had been an award-winning swimmer. What was worse though, was the strange atmosphere she immediately picked up with her psychic senses as she entered her once part-time home. That became even more troublesome when she met Aunt Emily's second husband and immediately felt an aversion to him... Oh, he was handsome and charming, alright, but when he began almost immediately to make moves on Tessa, she began to question his relationship to his dead wife...
The romance between Tessa and a boyhood friend within the novel could easily be a separate story since it is such a delightful tale of close childhood friends, having parted, now meet again. It is clear that Peter came back to Bramble Hill to meeting again, but Tessa has already committed to another man in her life. Still, her feelings for Peter have never gone away... The tension and caring between these two add greatly to the overall story, especially since Tessa has few people she can trust... At least that was the case until she found Peter with another woman when she had thought the time together was to be a date...
The villain will surprise many perhaps, but even then, the "why" is not clear until closing chapters that brings the whole story out...
The Secret of Bramble Hill is a tantalizing bit of history that claims there is treasure somewhere there...I love the ingenious method that the author used to tease and then reveal what that secret is all about... On the other hand, the overall intrigue of what each character brings into the story taunts as we strive to figure out whether the murder is really the main attraction, especially when more murders happened or were attempted! A thrilling mystery in a setting that adds much to the atmosphere, as well as ghostly appearances that are scary when at least one different ghost seemed to be the original murderer who had built Bramble Hill for his love...and then killed her!
Surely, potential readers know who you are by the time you're finished learning about the book... For those of you for whom it sounds interesting, I'd even call it a must-read... Check it out!
Sue Owens Wright is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. She is an eleven-time finalist for the Maxwell, awarded annually by the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) to the best writer on the subject of dogs. She has twice won the Maxwell Award and earned special recognition from the Humane Society of the United States for her writing. She writes the acclaimed Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, including Howling Bloody Murder, Sirius About Murder, Embarking On Murder and Braced For Murder, which is recommended on the American Kennel Club’s list of Best Dog Books.
Her newest novel is "The Secret of Bramble Hill" (Black Opal Books, 2016). Her nonfiction books include What’s Your Dog’s IQ?, 150 Activities for Bored Dogs, and People’s Guide to Pets. She has been published in numerous magazines, including Dog Fancy, Mystery Scene, AKC GAZETTE, Fido Friendly, The Bark, and Animal Fair. Her work also appears in several anthologies, including PEN Oakland’s “Fightin’ Words,” along with Norman Mailer and other literary notables.
Sue graduated from California State University Sacramento and taught elementary school, college English and adult writing courses. She did MFA studies in fiction writing at the Universities of Dublin and Galway in Ireland and University College London in England. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, DWAA, Sisters in Crime, PEO International, Sierra Pastel Society, SSPCA, and Daughters of the American Revolution. For more information about the author, visit www.sueowenswright.com.