The Two Mrs. Carlyles: Suzanne Rindell
Three young girls form an unholy alliance while having to attend an orphanage, St. Hilda’s Home for girls. Things are difficult enough but them something happens, and their lives take a different turn.
The year is 1906 and the setting is San Francisco just before the major earthquake and fires that changes the landscape. The quake lasted one minute but the orphanage was gone, and Violet, Cora and Flossie ventured out on their own for the first time. From teens to adults their lives intertwined until they did not. Where would they go and how would they get on was paramount as Cora finds a boardinghouse run by Mr. Tackett a soulless and heartless man that uses all the girls living there for the pleasures of unkempt men. Violet winds up as a maid and cook whereas both Cora and Flossie as dancehall girls and company for men who required their services. Things progress for a while, but Violet has memory spells that often have her questioning her actions and trying to recall what happened before she wakes up. Mr. Tackett and Blanche who oversees the girls in her own cruel ways become oddly sick at times. Tackett seems to have a recurring stomach virus of some kind and yet no one focuses on what causes it. Violet with the help of her friends is given laudanum to stabilize her. Things take on a strange turn when Violet is sent you to bring Blanche and Tackett food and finds them dead. Just as this happens the entire world shakes and the earthquake takes down the boardinghouse but Cora devises a plan to break into Tackett’s safe and the money inside of it is enough for each of the three to live high on the hog for a long time. So why does Violet feel pangs if guilt? After all she hardly got huge wages. The three venture out and wind up in a camp for displaced people for a while until the ultimate betrayal happens.
The earthquake destroys the boardinghouse and the three wind up in the camp until Violet finds a note that says someone knows about the arsenic that killed Tackett. It is at this point the girls go their own way and Violet finds herself alone and has decided to reinvent herself as a shop girl. Getting a new wardrobe and fitted out for her new style Violet gets a job selling and measuring customers for shoes. But when this does not meet her fancy, she finds her way into a millenary shop and here is where things take on a different turn. The girls working there are catty and do not befriend her. Violet finds her way around and then she decides to be in the place where Cora and Flossie promised to meet her at a set time but never show up. Waiting for two days she is hurt and disappointed. But something would change but not for the better, but she did not see it coming when a young boy named Joe gets attacked by thieves and she comes to his aid but someone else is there too.
Meeting Harry Carlyle would change Violet’s life but not exactly how she hoped. The incident with Joe brought him front and center as he gave the poor child the money to cover the cost of the stolen papers. Their courtship was stilted and often one sides and learning about him would take time. Rich, powerful, possessive and she would learn controlling the hidden fact that he was once married changed his demeanor radically when brought up. Madeline died he claimed in the earthquake, or did she? Seeing him alone was out of the question and when Miss Weber their chaperone was present, she got a cold chill as this woman hated her from the start. Harry wound go on about her and how she rebuilt his house and takes care of him . Violet should have seen the red flags, but she was blinded by what she thought she saw in him.
Meeting Flossie brought the three girls back together and seeing how affluent Cora was made her uncomfortable but not for long yet when she told them about Harry what Cora says sends Violet into a rage and the untold truths getting swallowed and Violet will not learn the harsh realities until it’s too late. It is like she sees Harry but not really and when bringing up his wife his whole attitude changes. On a night out his car breaks down and her friend Jasper comes to their aid but the evening ends on an odd note. Then after a time he calls her fir a private walk and someone or something sends him into a rage and once again she misses the red flags:
Thinking about the past she recalls events that happened in the orphanage and wonders if she caused the fire finding matches in her pocket. Then the handwriting on the note that said arsenic did she write it?
Things changed as Violet and Harry get married and their honeymoon seemed magical but a harsh reality when she returns home and is now living in his mansion the truth about Madeline comes out, a huge portrait lines the walls and Miss Weber does everything to make her miserable and questioning whether Harry was the right choice. Miss Weber lived in , the only servant that did but anything as simple as having a desk moved so she could use it in the library turned out to be a battle of authority and wills between Violet and Miss Weber. Loyal to Madeleine she made sure that Violet knew she was not going to allow her to take the reins and run the house. Just what hold does she have on Harry and why the portrait to remind him of a failed marriage? It’s like a ghost was living among them and the fear that she might not live up to Harry’s standards was hanging over her head but what comes next changes it all and the real Harry comes shining through but can Flossie and Cora help her before it’s too late?
Characters that are strong to a point and weak in any ways as Violet has to find her own voice in order to deal with Miss Weber and then get stronger when Harry gets violent and his true form comes out that it makes the reader wonder if Madeline really did leave for the reasons he claims or if there was another underlying one that Violet was experiencing first hand. Violet finds herself ill in the middle of the night, trying to find her way to the pantry to make some peppermint tea, she experiences some odd happenings like a candle in the garden that is lit, the lights go off even though they were on and other oddities that Harry begins to wonder if she’s imagining things. But when she approaches Miss Weber it seems that other servants experienced strange things in the house and she claims it’s better to leave things as they are or Harry will go mad and she implies that Madeline might want it that way and the house wants everything left the way she had before she left. When talking to her friend Henrietta, she implies that if Madeline was claimed dead, yet maybe alive what was in her grave. You begin to wonder what other secrets are within this house she moved into, what else is Harry hiding, what about Miss Weber?
Things take on a dark turn as Harry at times seems oddly cold and when Cora and Jasper visit pretending to be two other people. Harry makes it clear he does not want them to return. As the story moves forward Violet begins to realize that someone is doing things to drive her mad. Music is played on the piano in the middle of the night, sheet music was there one minute and when she looks to where he stored it the next day, why did it disappear. It is as if someone is out to gaslight her and make her go mad.
As Violet falls prey to someone is lies and betrayals, Harry becomes deathly ill and, in the hospital, but someone is manipulating the events and wants both Violet and Harry out of the way. Just who is creating the fear in her mind? Who is trying to drive her to think she is mad? When Violet comes face to face with a specter or someone, she thought was dead, the unholy truth and conspiracy comes to light but who will survive the wrath and evil of someone so desperate and mad. The ending will leave you unsettled as there is still someone out there that violet needs to worry about and the author leaves us wondering who lives, who dies, who tried to kill Violet and Harry and who is the real Mrs. Harry Carlyle? Suspense filled, chilling and a killer so desperate you will not believe what this person resorts to come out ahead.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews