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BOOK REVIEW: The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden

Published: March 30th, 2023
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Historical Mystery
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Welcome to my review of this atmospheric, haunting and eerie gothic debut. Thank you to Michael Joseph for the gifted proof copy, which was the Squadpod Book Club pick for March.



The mysterious and atmospheric debut novel perfect for fans of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Stacey Halls and Bridget Collins

‘I loved this fresh take on the gothic genre. Vivid, haunting, surprising’ STACEY HALLS, bestselling author of The Familiars

‘A full-blooded gothic mystery with bite, great characterisation and heaps of atmosphere’ EMMA STONEX, bestselling author of The Lamplighters

‘With echoes of Jane Eyre but with a heart of its own . . . A suspenseful and beautifully crafted novel filled with atmosphere, rich characters and plenty of layers to keep a reader hooked right to the end’ SUSAN STOKES-CHAPMAN, bestselling author of Pandora


Margaret Lennox is offered a position as governess at Hartwood Hall. She quickly accepts, hoping this isolated country house will allow her to leave her past behind.

But Margaret soon starts to feel there’s something odd about her new home, despite her growing fondness for her bright, affectionate pupil, Louis.

Strange figures move through the dark.
Tensions rise between the servants.
The east wing sits eerily abandoned . . .

Even stranger is the local gossip surrounding Mrs Eversham, Louis’s widowed mother, who is deeply distrusted by the nearby village.

Margaret is certain that everyone has something to hide.

But as her own past threatens to catch up with her, she must learn to trust her instincts before it’s too late . . .



“Folks say it’s cursed, but I dare say a lady like yourself wouldn’t believe such talk.”

1852. Newly widowed Margaret Lennox is offered a position as governess at Hartwood Hall. She swiftly accepts, hoping that the isolated country house will be the new start she needs. But it isn’t long before Margaret feels that something isn’t quite right at her new home and begins to wonder if there are dark secrets being hidden at Hartwood Hall…

A Victorian gothic mystery with themes of shadows, darkness, secrets, grief and ghosts interwoven into the plot, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall is a truly magnificent debut. Atmospheric, eerie and subtly tense, I was hooked from the first lines and sure this was going to be a book I loved reading. And it was. So much so that I had to force myself to put it down in the early hours after reading most of it in one sitting. I was so desperate to keep reading to the end that I even considered cancelling my plans the next morning. But the next day I found myself delaying picking it up as I was torn between wanting to know what happened and never wanting it to end. 

“When I think of Hartwood Hall, there are moments that come back to me again and again, moments that stain me, that cling like ink to my skin.”

Laden with vivid descriptions, a cast of secretivecharacters, and a gripping plot, Katie Lumsden has crafted a twist-filled mystery that lingers long after reading. She sets the atmosphere perfectly, giving me vibes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca as the sense of dread deepens and the unrelenting darkness becomes more prominent. Yet, it never feels too heavy as Lumsden cleverly balances it out with slices of love, hope and joy interwoven into the narrative. The lines between reality and imagination are expertly blurred as Lumsden creates a chilling atmosphere with a supernatural undercurrent, making us question what’s really going on. Then, when she’s lulled you into thinking you’ve got things all figured out, she whips the rug from under you to reveal something else entirely. 

Without great characters and a compelling protagonist I don’t think you can really connect to a book. Thankfully, this has both of those in abundance. The narrator, Margaret, is an intelligent, fierce, curious and determined woman who also has a mystery surrounding her past that keeps the reader guessing. Very recently widowed and left with nothing, we know Margaret is looking for a fresh start after her miserable marriage but there is also the sense that she’s running from something, both literally and metaphorically. I loved her bond with her young charge, Louis, which features prominently in the story. A strange, isolated, sickly looking child, Louis is actually very sweet. His excitement about the little joys in life that others take for granted was infectious and I quickly developed a strong affection for him, just as Margaret did. 
Louis’ mother, Mrs Eversham is an elusive character and the history of her and her son is a mystery to both the villagers and the reader. I was never sure if I could trust Mrs. Eversham and got the sense that she was keeping secrets from the start. She also seemed strangely overprotective of her son and had some rules that seemed quite over the top. Like Margaret I was eager to know what it was she was hiding. Could it really be something sinister? 

“I supposed that hers had not been a happy marriage either, that she, too, had found both guilt and relief in widowhood. 
Well, we were both free now. A strange link to hold the two of us together.”

Exploring themes of women’s rights, the story is told in a time where women had few rights, were owned by their fathers or husbands, and a woman without a man was viewed with suspicion. We see this in Mrs. Eversham’s character and the talks of a curse that surround Hartwood Hall. These are rooted in the fact that she came to the village alone, leading villagers to surmise that she is clearly up to no good. But we know little about her past and it is through Margaret that we mostly see this topic explored. Margaret has found freedom from her bad marriage in widowhood, and is trying to find the parts of herself she lost during those years. As a woman who has the privilege of modern independence and rights and having been in an abusive marriage, the idea of the law supporting abusive husbands and giving them ownership of their wives and children fills me with horror. I am so grateful to have had the right to leave, get divorced and keep custody of my child. I enjoyed reading a story featuring women who are attempting to take control of their own destinies and assert their independence.

Claustrophobic, haunting and suspenseful, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall is a sensational debut. Gothic and historical fiction fans will love this spine-chilling mystery, particularly those with a taste for Victoriana. Highly recommended. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮.5



Katie Lumsden read Jane Eyre at the age of thirteen and never looked back. She spent her teenage years devouring nineteenth century literature, reading every Dickens, Brontë, Gaskell, Austen and Hardy novel she could find. She has a degree in English literature and history from the University of Durham and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University. Her short stories have been shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize and the Bridport Prize, and have been published in various literary magazines. Katie’s Youtube channel, Books and Things, has more than 25,000 subscribers. She lives in London and works in publishing.



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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles xxx

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