I had a mixed reaction to Diane Tyrrel's debut novel. But I did think she could write - so I was more than willing to give her second novel, On Winding Hill Road, a shot. And I'm glad I did. While it's not perfect, I do think Tyrrel has improved from her debut - and this second book is really a nice trip down memory lane.
Sarah Logan is in her mid-twenties and adrift. Having never settled on just one career, she decides to take the job of "caretaker" to a 13-year-old girl on the northern California coast (near San Francisco). Her step-mother knows the Defalle family - so that's how she landed the job. However, despite the fabulous cottage she'll be living in, and the hefty salary, Sarah soon has reservations about her new employer.
The Defalle family has secrets. Secrets that nobody is willing to share with Sarah. The master of the house, Gatien Defalle, is a brooding, mysterious former Formula One racecar driver who is a distant father and rarely home thanks to business. That, and his first wife - the child's mother - committed suicide by flinging herself off a rocky cliff into the ocean. Or did she? While she was an impetuous, high-strung woman, rumor suggests that maybe it wasn't suicide....
This book is really classic gothic. It reminded me a lot of Barbara Michael's non-paranormal work. Young woman takes job as governess only to fall in love with the mysterious master of the house, whose first wife died suddenly. Thankfully, Tyrrel doesn't employ the whole Did-The-Hero-Kill-His-Wife theme here. There are lots of suspects to choose from, and the mystery also involves what wifey was working on before her untimely demise.
This isn't a perfect book. Frankly, it has the same problem that all gothics have - that is the romance is ho-hum. I felt Sarah's fascination with Gatien was a bit off most of the time. The guy is so aloof he borders on "cold fish." Sure he's a hottie, but he's so emotionally unavailable that it's hard to see him as a "good catch." She seemed a bit obsessed to me.
Also, the pacing is slower - again very similar to most gothics. So if you ain't into gothics already, you'll probably not be wow'ed by this one. It very much sticks to the formula. One gets the impression that Tyrrel is devoted to all those old Victoria Holt and Barbara Michaels novels.
Not that that's a bad thing. Frankly finding a gothic these days with no paranormal elements is harder than finding new western romances. And Tyrrel can write. She has a way of evoking a setting that really works for me.
Will I read Tyrrel's third book? You betcha. If only to remind myself why I checked all those gothic romances out of the public library as a teenager.