FICTION: A woman marries a widower but never feels quite comfortable — or safe — in his Victorian mansion.
Author Cassandra King’s fifth novel, “Moonrise,” takes its title from a house of that name situated in an exclusive resort community in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It is in and around this “haunted” Victorian mansion that the book is set. At the outset of the novel, we meet Helen Honeycutt, TV star of her own CNN cooking show. She falls in love with Emmet Justice, a well-known and respected TV journalist (think Tom Brokaw).
Emmet recently lost his wife, Rosalyn, when the car she was driving plunged off an icy switchback in the mountains near Moonrise. Only months after the tragedy, Helen and Emmet marry, and for their first summer together, they travel from Atlanta to North Carolina to spend a month at Moonrise, Rosalyn’s family home. Throughout the narrative King sprinkles comments that cause us to question Emmet’s integrity. His friends, living in various “cottages” surrounding Moonrise, are loyal to Rosalyn’s memory. They resent Helen and each does his or her best to make her feel unwelcome.
Upon arrival at Moonrise, Helen feels unsettled: “The problem is, this is not my house and won’t ever be. Everything here, including Emmet, belonged to another woman before I came along. … [Isn’t it obvious that I love] this old house with its ruined gardens, the gently lapping lake below, the cloud-shrouded mountains surrounding us?”
Emmet’s close-knit social group includes Noel, a refined and likeable Southern gentleman; Linc, a retired university professor who is disabled due to a recent stroke; Kit, who since childhood had been Rosalyn’s closest friend; Tansy, a cynical and sarcastic former Southern belle who carries on an ambiguous relationship with Noel, and Myna, an eccentric poet and Linc’s wife. Red-headed Willa is a young mountain woman whose ancestors have lived in the area for centuries. She cleans homes, weeds gardens and serves as Linc’s nurse.
Moonrise has three narrators: Helen, Tansy and Willa. It is this stylistic device that is the novel’s strong point — each voice is clear and distinct, each with its own word choices, background and values.
The novel is fast-paced. Plot twists and the increasing complications in relationships are dynamic.
It was Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic classic, “Rebecca,” that inspired King to write “Moonrise,” and at times King displays a command of suspense, intrigue and foreboding that measures up to Du Maurier.
Occasionally, however, King gets carried away, allowing her prose to become flowery. For example, Helen describes the view from her bedroom window: “In the mountains, the stars look like candles carried by angels to light their way through the corridors of heaven, and the sliver of moon, a smile.”
Katherine Bailey’s website is katherinebaileyonbooks.com. She lives in Bloomington.