The Hollow House by Janis Patterson is a terrific murder mystery of the old school, meaning that it takes place in a house where everyone has lots of secrets, and solving the mystery depends on peeling back the layers on all of those deep, dark secrets and rattling all the skeletons in everyone’s closets. It’s almost Gothic in its sense of impending doom, but there are no horror elements except those of the purely human variety.
In 1919 Geraldine Brunton takes a job as a companion to a rich, eccentric and elderly woman. Except that Geraldine Brunton is not the woman’s real name. She is working under an alias in order to keep her identity a secret. “Geraldine” has never worked as a companion before, or as anything else. She has no references, no experience, and no training for any kind of work. But she is educated and cultured, and she needs to find a job before her money runs out. She also needs a place to hide, and hopes that Denver is far enough away from the scandal she is trying to outrun.
Emmaline Stubbs doesn’t need a companion half as much as she needs an ally. Emmaline Stubbs is definitely old, and it is difficult for her to get from her second floor room to the first floor dining room and parlor of her Denver mansion. But it is still her mansion, and not her daughter and son-in-law’s. Emmaline and her late husband Jamie earned the money that paid for that mansion prospecting for gold until they struck it rich at the Lodestar mine.
Since her husband’s death two years before, Mrs. Stubbs has been biding her time, waiting for the right circumstances. Her family has given out the impression that she is prostrate with grief, and has become an invalid. She has let everyone believe it. Now that “Mrs. Brunton” has become her companion, she becomes more active in family affairs again, much to her family’s dismay.
Mrs. Stubb’s sudden return to a more active life brings long-simmering secrets to the boil. When the housemaid Annie is murdered, and an attempt in made on Mrs. Stubb’s life, the police are called in.
Murder is not a respecter of anyone’s secrets, and the skeletons in every closet march into the light, including the scandal that brought “Mrs. Brunton” to Denver in the first place. The story keeps twisting and turning until the final page.
Escape Rating A- : This was very well done. I didn’t completely figure out who it was until the very end, partly because I couldn’t believe the murderer was who it turned out to be. And the ending is too deliciously awful for me to spoil by giving it away. You’ll have to read the book to find out “whodunit”. And you should.