Stories featuring old houses in the English countryside and a dark secret from the past are always entertaining. Throw in four sisters on the brink of adulthood with a glamorous but unreliable mother, two dangerous young men and an aunt who is, well, a bit batty and you’ve got the ingredients for an engrossing read.
The Wildling Sisters (or The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde) starts off with a body being dragged to a hiding place, a brief scene laced with foreboding, then flips to 50 years later when a young family are considering buying a crumbling mansion in the country. They are escaping London to start again. Jessie and Will have a preschool-age Romy in tow, as well as Bella, Will’s teenage daughter. Bella is surly and uncommunicative following her mother’s death and having to cope with a step-mother. An incident at her London school had her expelled and also makes Jessie uneasy about Romy’s safety.
The family discover Applecote, a large country house in need of repair that also bears a shadow – the disappearance of twelve-year-old Audrey Wilde in the 1950s. The locals won’t come near it and while Will gets stuck in London for work, Jessie has to deal with the burden of the new move and Bella’s bad behaviour with little support.
The story flips back to the heatwave of a 1950s summer that sees the four Wilde sisters staying with their distracted Aunt Sybil and peculiar Uncle Perry. Grief over their missing cousin Audrey consumes Sybil, and Margot at fifteen is aware of how similar she is to Audrey. She sneaks into Audrey’s room, a kind of shrine to her cousin, and admires her clothes.
And the sisters are a little wild to be sure. They’re also beautiful and have the confidence of their class and having a mother who hasn’t imposed a lot of rules. It’s just as well they have each other to rely on. Things get complicated when Harry Gore from the neighbouring estate and his friend Tom turn up by the river and flirt with the girls.
Yes, there’s a river – the logical place for Audrey to have disappeared, but there are also standing stones that add an air of youthful sacrifice, and endless summer heat that stirs the emotions. Margot tries to get a sense of what happened to her cousin, while dealing with a yearning for Harry and an emotionally demanding aunt.
There’s plenty to keep you turning the pages here; Chase keeping you guessing with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter as the story flips back and forth between narrators. Each of our main characters, Jessie, Margot and even Bella, have to deal with worrying events, as well as their tentative place in their families. This lifts the novel above being just a story about a scary house with a dark secret. Both Jessie and Margot will learn a lot before the end of the book when the puzzle pieces finally slot into place.
I really enjoyed my first Eve Chase novel. It’s a bit like reading Katherine Webb crossed with Ruth Ware and the writing is crisp and elegant too. A great escapist read, The Wildling Sisters gets a four out of five from me.