The year is 1912 and the Torrington family is in danger of losing their house, Sterne. Unless second husband and stepfather Edward Swift can secure a loan in Manchester, the family will lose the place Emerald, Clovis and Imogen (Smudge) have called home all their lives.
With Swift away on his rescue mission the rest of the household is preparing for the celebrations for Emerald’s twentieth birthday. But what should have been a quiet get-together over dinner turns into a nightmare when a train accident close by brings a group of rather sinister looking travellers to Sterne’s door looking for refuge.
Then, just before the family and their guests are due to sit down to dinner, one last train passenger shows up at the house. Unlike the earlier arrivals Charlie Traversham Beecher is obviously a first-class traveller and before anybody is quite sure what has happened he has joined the birthday party, much to Charlotte Swift’s distress. Charlie and Charlotte appear to know each other and Florence Trieves, the housekeeper, is clearly shocked to find the man in the house.
While the storm outside the house gets ever fiercer, the atmosphere in the house gets creepier as well. From the dinner that fails to appear as expected, via the ever rowdier and apparently growing group of refugees to the cruel and unusual game introduced by Charlie, Emerald’s evening is rapidly heading towards disaster. And just when it appears that things couldn’t possibly get any worse…
This is a very enjoyable story and not quite what it at first appears to be. What starts off as a comedy of errors appears to turn into a drama only to become a supernatural story with a charming happy ending.
None of the characters in this book are what they at first appear to be either. While, at the start of the book, the characters seem like rather superficial, selfish and almost stereo-typical products of the times they live in, they all end up surprising both the reader and themselves before the story has ended.
Great comic relief is provided by Smudge as she embarks on her “great undertaking”.
For some reason reading this book was not as smooth for me as I would like it to be. I found that I had to read sentences at least twice on several occasions just to make sure I understood what I was being told. It didn’t ever irritate me or make me want to put the book down, but it happened often enough for me to take notice.
Overall though, I enjoyed reading this book. The story and the way it developed and ended surprised me and put a smile on my face. And any book that does that for me is a book worth reading.