The Lost Ones by Anita Frank: Spellbinding, elegantly written, immaculately plotted, and delivering a shocking twist in its ghostly tail, this is gothic with a wise and wistful heart - book review -

The Lost Ones
The Lost Ones

Brimming with frissons of gothic supernatural, menace and mystery, The Lost Ones blends all the compelling intrigue of a ghostly whodunit with a psychologically astute and moving meditation on the impact of bereavement and family tragedy, and the power of redemption to heal and unite.

Overcome by grief after the death of her fiancé on the Western Front in 1917, Stella Marcham is only too happy to spend time with her pregnant sister at a grand house tucked away in the English countryside.

But Greyswick is not a place of peace and solace, and Stella finds her sister Madeleine gripped by fear and suspicion that this is not just a haunted house, but a dangerous one too.

If your autumn nights are short of a spine-tingling read in the best tradition of classics like The Woman in Black and Rebecca, then get your hands on this dark, atmospheric page-turner from exciting debut author Anita Frank.

Brimming with frissons of gothic supernatural, menace and mystery, The Lost Ones blends all the compelling intrigue of a ghostly whodunit with a psychologically astute and moving meditation on the impact of bereavement and family tragedy, and the power of redemption to heal and unite.

Stella Marcham, who worked as a VAD nurse on the battlefields of France and witnessed there the ‘unmitigated destruction of life,’ is struggling to cope with the loss of Gerald Fitzwilliam, the man she loved and so cruelly lost.

After his death eight months ago, Stella feared she had surrendered her sanity to grief but now she feels adrift, and has no interest in life. So when her brother-in-law, Hector Brightwell, who is stationed in London, asks her to stay with her sister Madeleine who, he says, has become withdrawn, jittery and ‘scared of her own reflection,’ she jumps at the invitation.

Travelling only with a maid, 16-year-old Annie Burrows, Stella arrives at imposing country mansion Greyswick, owned by Hector’s dour and self-important mother Lady Brightwell, to discover a house riven by unease, suspicion and fear.

Greyswick is run by the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Henge, a woman of icy demeanour who keeps her keys on a gaoler’s ring at her waist and guards the house with an unnatural fervour.

Madeleine is convinced the house is haunted but Stella is unconvinced until she is troubled by a series of strange incidents – the heartbreaking sobs of a child in the night, little footsteps on the stairs, toy soldiers left under the covers of her bed – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn into the tragic history of the house.

Meanwhile, the bizarre behaviour of Stella’s maid Annie is causing concern and Hector has called in wounded war veteran, Tristan Sheers, to explore the claims of supernatural activity in the house. Together Stella and Tristan set about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets… secrets that the dead are whispering from the other side.

Frank’s first novel is written with an impressive assurance and eloquence as the reader is plunged into the darkest corners of a house which holds some deep and disturbing family secrets that have festered for decades.

The plight of Stella and Madeleine – condemned by a male-dominated society as suffering from hysteria, ‘that peculiarly female affliction’– is beautifully and powerfully portrayed while Stella’s slow awakening to the presence of a malevolent spirit in the house plays out exquisitely against flashbacks to the awakening of her love affair with Gerald.

Each character – from the Mrs Danvers-like Mrs Henge and the elusive maid Annie to the intriguing, ghost-busting Tristan – is an essential component of this engrossing, all-encompassing mystery set amidst the angst and high emotion of the First World War.

Spellbinding, elegantly written, immaculately plotted, and delivering a shocking twist in its ghostly tail, this is gothic with a wise and wistful heart.

(HQ, hardback, £12.99)