Grace Bradley is only 14 when she begins service at the grand house at Riverton. Coming from a poor home raised only by her single mother, who had also worked at Riverton, Grace knows only the life of poverty and servitude. Starting work herself at the beautiful estate starts to open her eyes to all the possibilities of life, even if she’s always reminded of “her place.”
She has no idea just how her life will be affected by those she has been hired to serve. The people who most change the course of her life are the youngest visitors to the estate, the grandchildren of the Lord and Lady Ashbury: David, Hannah, and Emmeline. Hannah is her age, and the other two are just older and younger. Watching them interact — their closeness, their secret games and understandings — makes her wish she could be with them.
But the older Grace, the one who at age 98 narrates the story, does know what will happen, how her life will change, what fateful decisions of these young people will affect her deeply for her whole life. We know, with her, that something terrible happens in the 1920s after the Great War, at the house at Riverton. That she has a hand in how the tragedy unfolds. That the guilt will not let her rest for years.
And so, at the end of her life, now residing in a nursing home near Riverton, Grace finally unburdens herself of the truth, as only she knows it. For the other players in the tragedy have long been dead. The story of what happened, what Hannah and Emmeline and their family circulated, is being reenacted in a film, and while Grace cannot allow herself to tell the true story to the nice young filmmaker, she does let it be known to her grandson, a novelist also burdened with guilt. In a series of tapes, she tells him — and us — her side of the story.
There are few real surprises in The House at Riverton. It is a deliciously entertaining gothic novel, with suspense and mystery hanging over the whole story, but most of the clues given throughout the novel are meant for the reader to figure out some of the mysteries. The only surprise is exactly what happens on the final page, the secret that has been hinted at for pages and pages by Grace. And while there can only be a few possible scenarios, the true one is devastating.
This is a well-done, absorbing novel that draws the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final page. Highly recommended for anyone who likes a good tale of suspense with three-dimensional characters.
Rated: Moderate, for four uses of mild language and just one occurrence of strong language (would only be rated Mild if it weren’t for that one word!). Mild references to sex.