The Night of the Visitor

Ann Colbert–recently married to the charming Glenn Stacey–is struck by a sudden blow: her father dies, leaving her alone in Boston. After receiving a desperate, half-finished letter from her childhood nurse, Miss Lucy, Ann rushes to fly to her childhood home in Devon. There, she meets the cousins she’d never known: the Thornes of Valicombe, a crumbling old mansion. After learning of Miss Lucy’s sudden death just days before, Ann sets herself up in her nurse’s cottage, determined to wait for her husband to arrive. Glenn never appears, however, and Ann finds herself drawn into a terrible intrigue.

How is it possible that Miss Lucy died so suddenly, right on the verge of revealing an important secret to Ann? Why was her cottage ransacked? What is the significance of the carbon-copy of a deed that Lucy mailed to Ann? Where is the other, missing letter from Lucy that promised would explain everything that Ann needed to know about the Thornes? Why are all Ann’s calls to her husband going astray?

Certainly, her cousins’ welcome is, well, not so welcoming. Jonathan Thorne, the eldest, is friendly to the point of being inappropriate. Milicent, wild and unfailingly attracted to unavailable men, seems obsessed with Ann’s husband. And David–the younger son–is downright hostile.

One thing is clear: there are secrets at Valicombe–secrets that run so deep and have such high stakes that someone is willing to kill for them. Who is the guilty party? What is the reason for the violence that threatens Ann? Somehow, she must unravel the knot before she, too, falls victim to the murderer.

The Night of the Visitor is an enjoyable read–even a page turner–though I do have some caveats. The greatest one is that Ann is a milquetoast. She’s so dependent on her husband–a man that she barely knows and to whom she’s been married only a few weeks–that she puts herself in danger of bodily harm. Over and over, she insists that she must stay in Lucy’s cottage until Glenn arrives. She suffers every time she has to leave the telephone, just in case he calls while she is gone. Although the mystery that surrounds her is compelling, I would have liked for Ann to make more active choices. Her obsession with being “Mrs. Glenn Stacey” gets tiresome.

In terms of romance, Willock’s book is unusual: the central relationship, so to speak, is established in the early pages of the book, and the heroine is married before the plot gets moving. Since one of the central mysteries of Night of the Visitor is the question of why Glenn’s gone missing, Ann’s love interest is absent for the majority of the book.

I will say that Willock handles Glenn’s romance with Ann deftly. She has only a few chapters at the beginning of the book to establish their relationship, and within those pages she creates a vivid and charming character. I liked Glenn, I rooted for him and Ann to get together, and I was satisfied by the way their relationship was developed. At first.

It’s just that . . . as soon as Glenn and Ann are married, he disappears, opening the door for the Thorne brothers and leaving a vacuum in Ann’s life. It’s a vital point for the plot, but one that–between Ann’s obsessing and the much-more-present Thornes–grows tiresome. After a while, I wished that Ann would just get over her missing husband and get on with solving Lucy’s murder.

Of course, a Gothic romance needs opposing heros to build tension. Thus, in Glenn’s place, Willock gives us Jonathan and David Thorne–both of whom seem to be attracted to Ann. The pair fit the paradigm perfectly: David is hostile and threatening (but just might be a good guy) while Jonathan is warm yet somehow . . . off. For a time, it seems like they could be viable rivals for Ann (after all, who knows what has happened to her husband?). As the book went on, I found I was more attracted to one of the brothers than I was to Glenn. I must count that as a flaw.

In terms of mystery, however, Night of the Visitor is effective. I felt dread, and the atmosphere of Valicombe is vivid and oppressive. Although I had an inkling of the bad guy’s identity and what puzzle’s solution was, I didn’t guess all the details, which is unusual for me.

Since this is a romance blog, I have focused this review on Night of the Visitor‘s relationships rather than its suspense. I fear that may have resulted in a lopsided review. Although the romance is set up oddly, the mystery and atmosphere in Night of the Visitor are excellent. I recommend this book as an absorbing page-turner with a number of compelling characters.

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