Cover scan obtained via http://gothicnovellover.com/gallery/main.php, which was recommended to me via Barrymore. Here's the LARGE version [sorry, Link feature never works for me]:
This was a beautifully told story and a nice change of pace. It opens in May 1870, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sarah Bennett, a governess, is on trial for allegedly poisoning her employer, Mr. Gordon, in a fit of jealous pique. The jurors acquit her on the basis of "not proven"...which of course isn't the same as "not guilty." A cloud of suspicion still hangs over Sarah's head.
A handsome blonde man attends the trial throughout. Sarah notices his supportive and kindly gazes at her. He is John Stone, who has also had a run-in with a poisoning. After the trial, the elderly judge -- who is also kindly disposed towards Sarah -- takes her under his wing. She is a guest in his home for dinner and a room, is introduced to the blonde man who'd faithfully attended her trial. John Stone is Master of Dankhurst, and needs a governess for his sickly son, Richard. Sarah agrees to employment with Mr. Stone.
Poison and poisonings continue to shadow Sarah. She begins to suspect most everyone around her, and fearfully wonders if she's unwittingly been lured and trapped into the role of scapegoat for another's activities.
A slashed portrait. A missing portrait. A quiet woman who seems not to be as demure and innocent as she appears. A sickly boy who reports his dead mother's ghost visiting him at night. An unexpected death. John Stone's mysterious secretiveness and moodiness. And just what exactly is his interest in the ancient Egyptian relics in the attic...and interest in the high and fine art of ancient Egyptian poisoning techniques?
I give it 5 stars on a scale of 1 - 5.
I had a hunch who the culprit was about 2/3 of the way through. My hunch was correct.
The only mar on the storytelling is Sarah's intensely suspicious nature (she's got it all figured out after only 24 hours on the estate, plays Judge/Jury/Executioner in her own mind). That, and her silly, unfounded over-trust in Rodney Stone. She blurts out extremely provocative and slanderous accusations with nary a second thought; also, she "confides" the wrong things to Rodney which inadvertently keeps young Richard in danger a bit longer than is necessary. She comes off as a fool, frankly. I could have liked this character a lot better otherwise.
I enjoyed the Richard Stone character, the little boy. He was a definite ray of sunshine.
The cast of characters as I visualized them:
Sarah Bennett: Katharine Ross (age 22)
John Stone: Ewan MacGregor (age 29)
Rodney Stone: Orlando Bloom (age 24)
Abigail Durmot: Emma Thompson (age 28)
Mrs. Fergus: Maggie Smith (age 65)
Richard Stone: As he's described in the book: Blonde hair, blue eyes; a sweet and sincere little boy who deserves better (and who, I'm happy to say, gets just that).
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