12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2017)
England. 1850. On December 24, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious offer: if she spends the next 12 days at a place called Bleakly Manor, she’ll receive enough money to rescue her from the poverty she’s experienced from the loss of her family fortune.
If they’d told her that another of the guests would be the man who stood her up at the altar, she’d have stayed away.
Except her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane, missed the wedding because he’d been thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He thinks Clara has refused to visit him because she believes he’s a thief. Can he somehow clear his name? Can the two lovers trust one another again?
The other guests are unusual, bordering caricatures: Miss Scurry, who keeps her box of pet mice with her at all times (and who can tell them apart by name!); Mr. Minnow, an eel-like fellow; Mr. Pocket, a police inspector; Mademoiselle Pretents, quite pretentious (and very rude); Mr. Tallgrass, a vulgar fellow in a wheelchair.
It’s a light-hearted mystery: who (and where) is their mysterious host? And who’s behind the incidents that seem calculated to eliminate the guests?
Michelle Griep draws readers in with choice turns of phrase. My favourites:
Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky… Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. [page 9]
A cold mist settled over London, dampening everyone’s clothing to the same shade of dreary. It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woolen capes and took up residence in the bones. [page 181]
The novella is book one in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, and while Charles Dickens himself doesn’t appear on the pages, readers will find the connection before the story ends.
Michelle Griep’s website describes her as “an author, blogger, and occasional superhero when her cape is clean.” For more about the author and her books, visit michellegriep.com. Also, you can read my interview with her here.
[Review copy from the public library.]