By Leslie Wheeler
Kathryn Stinson is on a family mission to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in an old photograph one of her ancestors brought with him to California many years ago. One might think that this is an impossible task, but Kathryn already has several pieces of family history, which give enough background on her ancestors that she knows where to start: the Berkshires in Massachusetts. She knows, for instance, that the person who brought the photograph west and treasured it until the day he died was Jared Cutter. Cutter was a wealthy man, and one of the leaders in the Berkshire town of New Nottingham. But no one in the family knew why Jared suddenly pulled up stakes and moved to California. Did it have anything to do with his treasured photograph of a woman who became known in the family as Dark Lady? Kathryn is determined to find out.
Kathryn picks up the research trail begun by her beloved Aunt Kit, and once ensconced in a rental house with its own share of secrets, pays a visit to Emily Goodale, an elderly native of the area. Emily vacillates between living in a twilight world where long-dead family members speak to her, and being a with-it, and very demanding senior who’s sharp enough (and mean enough) to give Kathryn tiny bits of tantalizing information and then shut down completely.
There are other forces at work in this hilly area of the Berkshires, too. Kathryn’s suspicious neighbors on Rattlesnake Hill become openly hostile toward her when she starts seeking answers to a more recent mystery—the murder of Diana Farley, who once occupied the house Kathryn is renting. Rumors have swirled around her violent death, and both her husband, Gordon, and her lover, Earl Barker, are suspects.
Leslie Wheeler has penned a taut romantic thriller which mixes past and present with a menacing atmosphere, believable characters, and a fast-moving plot.