On The Edge Of The Woods
by Diane Tyrrel
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-19477-9
***
As a teenage girl I read a lot of mystery novels. It was through my love of mystery, and my tendency to browse library shelves, that I discovered Victoria Holt and Barbara Michaels. I still have a soft spot for gothics, so I was really excited when I learned that someone had actually written one – and gotten it published by a major house. Unfortunately, the elements of Tyrrel’s story that pay homage to those old gothic stories are also its biggest hindrance.

Architect Stacy Addison is at a crossroads in her current relationship. Maybe as a way of playing chicken with her beau, this gal from San Francisco decides to buy a house. Naturally it’s not just any house, but a rambling, rundown manor in the Sierras that’s a hodge-podge of additions and architectural styles. Soon her life is wrapped up with home renovations, commutes, and the lives of the small town’s eccentric residents.

One of those residents in Brand Vandevere, a man Stacy is immediately intrigued by. However, Stacy is hesitant about her hunky new neighbor. Brand had always expressed an interest in her new home, and he’s none too pleased that she bought it out from under him. There are also rumors that Brand tried to swindle the former resident, a sickly old lady, by getting her to sell the house to him at a ridiculously low price. But while Stacy has good reasons not to trust him, she’s still attracted to him.

Certain classic gothic elements present in this debut novel are really what make it work. Tyrrel has a descriptive writing style, especially where the house is concerned. It soon takes on a life of its own – making Stacy’s rundown manor a separate character. There’s also a mystery surrounding the house, as there are rumors that it holds some sinister secrets. The mystery of the house, and how Tyrrel portrays it were easily my favorite aspects of the story.

Unfortunately, the main aspect of gothics I never completely cared for are also present here. The romance isn’t much to brag about. It’s apparent very early on that Stacy and Brand are our couple, but the business that keeps them apart smacks of The Big Misunderstanding. Stacy and Brand do not communicate like adults or spend much time together, so they hardly know each other. When they finally get around to declaring their love, well frankly, it’s a little hard to swallow.

The pacing of the story is also an issue, as it takes a good 150 pages for it to go anywhere. Outside of Stacy buying the house, getting a few threatening phone calls, and going on ski trip, not much happens. I think the author was trying to build suspense, but every time the focus shifted away from Stacy’s peril or the mystery of the house, the story bogged down.

The final 100 pages of the story are really the best, with the mystery getting wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion. For the most part Tyrrel’s first book shows quite a bit of promise. She has a fine attention for detail, and the way she writes about the house is a real treat. She also populates this story with an array of characters, making the red herring possibilities endless. Unfortunately, she sticks a little too closely to the gothic formula. On The Edge Of The Woods delivers a pleasurable trip down memory lane, but it is ultimately a rehash of the old conventions.

--Wendy Crutcher


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