Somewhere in the frozen North, it doesn’t matter where, really, Henna is trying to forget that her parents and twin sister disappeared in a boating accident. Where she lives, it’s always cold and always snowing. She writes encyclopedia entries and takes long snowshoe walks with her dog, Rembrandt.
One afternoon on a walk she finds a dead body under a tree. Near the body is a scrap of old letter with few clues. Even after the police identify the victim, Henna becomes obsessed with understanding why she was there, and what the letter has to do with it.
Hours spent in the attic archives of the local library, coupled with her own knowledge of the doomed Franklin expedition, bring her to the conclusion that the letter is related to Lady Jane Franklin and current understanding of the expedition’s disappearance. Now she has to figure out why she was murdered, without getting killed herself.
The second half of the novel brings Henna to the family mansion of the town’s local aristocracy. While there, she has to wear antiquated clothing (her own was burned in a fire) and is confined to the old house. The glaring gothic tropes would be ridiculous except for the fact that Henna, in first person narration, notices them too. She even makes quips about it. Most importantly, she doesn’t become a helpless damsel but remains quite capable.
Fletcher’s note said, “Don’t go exploring without me.” Shades of Bluebeard. … Fletcher had neglected to leave a set of forbidden keys or a map of his personal den of horrors, so I disregarded his instructions and set off on a circuit of the lower level. … The next time I ended up in the study, I stole a pen and the lone sheet of stationary from the desk and began to map the lower level of the house. A very domestic cartography, but still, I felt a bit of the exploring fervor as I filled in hallways and closets and named rooms for the color of their furnishings, stopping now and then to peer out the windows to orient myself. ~Pgs. 129-30
My only quarrel with the book is the denouement. There is too much of a deus ex machina element for it to really sit right with the rest of the narrative. Henna is so practical and useful, that’s it a little hard to believe. Otherwise, this is a ripping read and I highly recommend it. The author plays with the themes of water (snow, Arctic, dowsing, freezing, etc.) deftly. It would have been five stars but for some elements at the end.
My thanks to Michelle at Dzanc Books for the e-galley.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Dzanc Books (February 12, 2020)
Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches