Life is hard for a medium. It’s even harder when the medium’s landlady is blackmailing said medium in order to get her to steal from her wealthy clients. Although Genevieve Timmons is a natural at cold-reading and getting clients to believe that she can communicate with the dead, she is not at all talented in theft. In the opening pages of B.R. Myers’s delightful A Dreadful Splendor, Genevieve is caught red-handed and thrown in a London jail. The only way out comes in the form of a curious offer from an elderly lawyer. He can get her out, he says, but only if she can use her mediumistic skills to help his employer get over the grief of losing a fiancee.
It’s a lot to take in but Myers barely gives us or Genevieve a chance to catch our breaths before whisking us away to an estate in northern England that could almost challenge Manderley, Thrushcross Grange, or Thornfield Hall for moody dampness. (If you recognize those place names, you’ll probably also pick up on hints of Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre scattered around A Dreadful Splendor. Thankfully, those references and vibes are merely seasonings in this entertaining and original story.) Genevieve meets the master of the house under inauspicious circumstances on her very first night at Somerset Park and is dragooned into yet another plot. Gareth Pemberton still wants Genevieve to hold a seance but, this time, he wants her to use her cold-reading skills to get his fiancee’s killer to confess.
Genevieve is a wonderful amateur detective. Normally I get annoyed at these kinds of characters because they’re often written to be instant experts at forensics or interrogation or something; I don’t find it believable when a chef or a bookstore owner suddenly becomes a master detective. Genevieve I can believe. She was brought up to notice things and use her observations to manipulate her target’s emotions. She’s also learned to hide what she can do under the cover of the supernatural—which turns out to be very effective against the superstitious or those with guilty consciences. Because Genevieve is under orders from both her lawyer-rescuer, Mr. Lockhart, and Pemberton, she has to dance as fast as she can to keep her secrets.
The pace set in the first chapters never slackens. In fact, the twists start coming hard and heavy after Genevieve is pushed into detective duty. And there are definite signs that nefarious things are afoot at Somerset Park, from the hints about the terrifying family history to the voices in the walls to the creepy housekeeper. A Dreadful Splendor isn’t all mystery and horror, however. Genevieve and Mr. Pemberton start to spark almost immediately. Watching these two verbally spar with each other was as much fun as trying to figure out what on earth is going on at Somerset Park and what really happened to the lamented fiancee. This book was an absolute pleasure to read.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.