Cat Winter’s The Uninvited zipped by so quickly that I was in the last chapters before I quite realized how fast I was reading. The book opens with Ivy Rowan’s father and brother returning to the family farm from town, covered in blood, and rambling about the German they just killed. It’s October 1918 in Buchanan, Illinois, and anti-German sentiment is running high and the Spanish Influenza had just arrived. The news of her father and brother’s horrific crime sends Ivy fleeing from the farm even though she’s been down with influenza for a week. Ivy is a tangle of guilt and liberation when she arrives in Buchanan, determined to find her own way. For Ivy, death is just the beginning of her life.
It wasn’t long before Ivy’s decisions in Buchanan before my reader senses started to tingle, telling me that something wasn’t quite right with the story I was being told. Ivy is known as a recluse. She teaches piano at the farm, but hasn’t been seen in town at all since she graduated from school. On her first day in Buchanan, Ivy takes lodgings with the woman the town loves to gossip about. Her first night, she rescues some Red Cross nurses whose ambulance has stalled on the train tracks with the train barreling down on them. Her rescue turns into a job hauling Influenza victims to a temporary hospital.
While all this is going on, Ivy is trying to atone for her family’s actions with Daniel Schendel—the brother of the man she believes her father and brother murdered. Then she ends up in bed with him. For a supposed recluse, Ivy plunges into her new life without a backward glance. Her character didn’t make sense to me until I got to the revelations at the end of the book. Why would the brother of her family’s victim even speak to Ivy, let alone sleep with her? Why is Ivy so willing to try new things and take on Lucas, the local anti-German agent, whenever he threatens Daniel?
The fact that Ivy can also see ghosts seems like overkill in The Uninvited. Ivy believes that the ghosts she sees—like all the women in her family—are a sign that someone she knows is going to die. As the week after the murder progresses, Ivy sees more and more ghosts. She panics as she races around Buchanan warning people. It’s only when Ivy returns to her mother at the farm that she learn the truth of what’s happening.
By the end of The Uninvited, I was satisfied with the way the plot worked out, but I feel that it was too short to fully develop its themes of liberation and forgiveness. I would have loved more time to see Ivy’s relationship with Daniel develop. I wanted more time to get to know Ivy, to understand her. Where did this recluse find her gumption and joie de vivre? I also wanted to see more below the surface of Buchanan, a town that claims to be the friendliest on earth. As written, The Uninvited struck me as a bit anemic.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 11 August 2015.