The Poisoned House by Michael Ford
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Published: September 2012
Genre: young adult, gothic, mystery, history
Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. The widowed master of the house is slowly slipping into madness, and the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs. Cotton, punishes Abi without mercy. But there’s something else going on in Greave Hall, too. An otherworldly presence is making itself known, and a deadly secret will reveal itself–a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.
Abigail Tamper would love nothing more than to escape Greave Hall, a place that has only brought grief since her mother’s death. But Mrs. Cotton, the wicked housekeeper, has other plans for the scullery maid. When the master’s son returns from war, mysterious things begin to happen to and around Abi, circumstances that cannot be explained without a person accusing her of madness.
This is a quietly brilliant ghost story. Everything about it mimicked the work of Wilkie Collins: subtle gothic tones, household disturbances, tyrannical person of some power over the protagonist, and massive family secrets that only the protagonist can discover and reveal. The atmosphere was chilling and the situations dramatic. I loved the moments the ghost would make its presence known. I really enjoyed the superstition that came into play as well.
Ford’s ghost story was a nice change from the fantastical ghost stories of disturbed spirits out to harm living people. There’s a line between frightening someone into realizing/recognizing a secret that needs to be put to rest, and chasing after someone for the pure enjoyment of watching them flee in fear.