A long, long time ago, when I was a teenager, Gothic romances were in. I read many of them. I really liked a lot of them. Then they went away. Whispers of Goodbye shows you canít really kill Gothics. Theyíll reappear when you least expect them, when you think itís finally safe . . . but I digress.
Catherine has little to be happy about in her post-Civil War home. Her child is dead, her husband has now killed himself, her home is ruined from war. She herself is on the brink of starvation. Then her sister, who had long since moved away after her marriage to John McMahon, writes and begs Catherine and her husband to come to her home. When Cat reads how terrified her sister Elizabeth is, she rushes to be of help to the only family she has left.
Of course sheís too late. When she arrives, although Elizabethís husband and child are still there, Elizabeth herself has disappeared. Cat tries to discover what has happened to her but no one else seems to want to help - especially not Elizabethís husband.
Whispers of Goodbye will be enjoyed if you are a lover of Gothic stories, but a warning to those who arenít quite as enamored of the genre - this story has the strengths and weaknesses of all the old Gothics I read long ago. The first weakness is Catís later romance with John, who she is attracted to but fearful of. The love there seems half-hearted despite the sexual pull depicted. Probably that inconsistency comes because John himself is an inconsistent character. . . his actions and motives remain a mystery to Cat through most of the book.
In addition, the most compelling character is one who is never seen - Catís sister. The reader has to wonder why Cat so deeply idolized her older sibling when all her childhood memories show a surface charm and nastiness beneath. Cat isnít stupid - why does the eventual revelation of her sisterís real character stun her as an adult?
Finally, there is a lot of mystery, some of which isnít really cleared up by the end of the book. But along with the puzzling mystery is atmosphere, atmosphere. The feeling of menace around every corner is chillingly conveyed. This Gothic has everything. Gris-gris, a solitary heroine, poisonous snakes, a little girl who hums strange tunes and spies on everyone, the mysterious John who alternates between kindness and rage, servants who know more than theyíre telling . . . all that and more. Who can the heroine trust?
Itís to Catís credit that her choices, though not always right, come from her best guess at the time. Catís narrative details strange events but despite everything, her voice is compelling. And so is Whispers of Goodbye.