Graphic designer Tess Haviland is the reluctant recipient of a dilapidated nineteeth-century carriage house situated near the ocean north of Boston. A carriage house that is
reputed to be haunted. An eccentric client, Ike Grantham, deeded the property over to Tess in exchange for some graphic design work. He then mysteriously disappears.
That was over a year ago. In the meantime, Tess has repeatedly postponed making a decision whether to keep the place or sell it. Her design business is located in Boston,
and so is her well-loved, if minuscule, Beacon Hill basement apartment. A carriage house in the North Shore village of Beacon-by-the-Sea is too far away to be anything other than a weekend place...something a struggling graphic artist can ill afford.
But the arrival of an enormous property tax bill finally convinces Tess she needs to make a decision.
While investigating the property, Tess meets her young next door neighbor, six-year-old Dolly Thorne. Dolly favors sparkling tiaras and prefers to be addressed as “Princess
Dolly.” Tess is charmed by the precocious child, but she is even more impressed with Dolly’s hunky dad, Andrew. Who just happens to be a widower. Maybe a weekend place isn’t such a bad idea?
But after spending a night in the haunted carriage house, Tess isn’t so sure. After hearing sounds in the basement that she’s sure come from Dolly’s pregnant feline Tippy Tail,
Tess goes to the rescue. And literally falls on a human skeleton partially concealed in the dirt basement floor.
Horrified, Tess flees. Was someone murdered in her carriage house? Afraid of the answer, Tess does nothing. And that’s where the book totally lost me. If I discovered
human remains in my house, I’m sure the first thing I would do is call the police. But since Tess has no idea who to trust, she vacillates for days before finally calling the cops. And sure enough, by the time they arrive, the skeleton has disappeared.
It’s too bad, because up to that point I was really enjoying the book. The vivid descriptions of the Massachusetts coast rang true to this Boston-area native. I could practically smell the lilacs and taste the clam chowder.
The characters were a bit more problematic. There’s no question that Tess is a procrastinator and for a good portion of the book we wait while she makes decisions. Should she keep the carriage house or sell it? Should she call the police regarding the dead body or not? It was extremely frustrating for this reader.
I found Andrew appealing, if not particularly fully fleshed. I could sense the attraction when he and Tess were together and would have preferred a greater emphasis on the
romantic elements, but the suspense is clearly the focus here.
The secondary characters were terrific. Princess Dolly’s babysitter, Harley Beckett, is a grizzly Vietnam vet and ex-cop, with a soft spot for the precocious little girl. How you
feel about Princess Dolly will depend upon your tolerance for cute little kids. And be warned, this cute little kid dominates the story. She is even featured more prominently than her dad, Andrew. I really liked her...things HAPPENED when she was around.
The Carriage House truly embodies my interpretation of a three heart read. There were aspects of the book I really enjoyed and others that left me flat. I think readers who enjoy their suspense with a light touch Gothic romance might enjoy The Carriage House. But you’d better like precocious little kids.