Richard Shenstone arrives at Herriard House a little too early–he should still be completing his semester at Cambridge, and then he was supposed to tour the Continent with friends during the holidays–his mother clearly wasn’t expecting him (she called him William when she first saw his shape in the doorway) and his sister, Euphenia, was obviously horrified to see him. Perhaps their dismay is merely because the house is not fit for habitation: Richard is surprised to see his formerly comfortable family removed to a remote, crumbling estate, far from their social circle… just as he was surprised, weeks earlier, to hear of his father’s death through a newspaper article. No one will answer his questions, and he has plenty.
Of course, Richard might not be the one to confide in, even if there are answers to his many questions: his primary concern at being separated from his trunk is how long he’ll be separated from his supply of opium; the circumstances under which he left Cambridge seem to be mysterious if not absolutely criminal; and (most importantly, at least to me) wow, is he bad around women. Every, I mean every, young woman/girl he meets becomes the object of explicit fantasies. These fantasies seem to be his most real connection with the outside world– he’s pretty vague otherwise– which is troubling because the neighborhood is in turmoil too.
Things at Herriad House are secretive and shadowed, and events in the neighborhood are no better: people have been receiving the most vile anonymous letters, accusing of all manner of sexual depravities; animals are being mutilated in particularly disgusting ways. All of this is told through Richard’s journal–a considerably less than reliable source–which has been found in a rural records office years after the related events.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, though there were times when I wished I were reading, not listening to an audiobook (Richard’s fantasies are a little disturbing when whispered through earbuds). Definitely not for the squeamish, but very very good. I’d give it 4 out of 5 in the genre: not quite as good as The Crimson Petal and the White, or Fingersmith, but loads better than many I’ve been unable to finish (and whose names, now, completely escape me.)