The Curse of Penryth Hall
by Jess Armstrong
The Curse of Penryth Hall is a historical cozy mystery with supernatural elements and Gothic overtones.
Ruby Vaughn has vowed to never return to Penryth Hall after the marriage of her best friend Tamsyn to Sir Edward Chenowyth. But her boss, Mr. Owen, has sent her to the village of Lothiel Green to deliver a trunk full of books to a man named Ruan Kivell. Before Ruby makes her delivery, she stops at the hall and finds a much-changed Tamsyn. Tamsyn is much thinner and has a bruised face. That evening at dinner, Ruby exchanges barbs with Sir Edward, until he excuses himself from dinner when he suddenly falls ill. The next morning his mutilated body is found by the housekeeper on the estate’s grounds. She insists the curse, which killed Edward’s uncle and his wife thirty years prior, is back and has killed Edward. When Tamsin hears the news, she insists the curse is coming for her next and forces Ruby to swear she will keep Tamsyn’s young son safe. Ruby’s scientific mind refuses to believe a curse is at work. She resolves to find the murderer behind Sir Edward’s death.
This is a solid mystery with all sorts of twists and turns and an ending I didn’t see coming. The atmosphere is spooky with a castle falling into ruin and gloomy weather. Ruan Kivell, the local Pellar (a role which Ruan inhabits with mixed emotions), is a man with skill at healing others and putting Ruby’s emotions in turmoil. The verbal sparring between the two is funny and one of the best parts of the novel.
Ruby’s relationship with Tamsyn is complicated. They’ve been friends since Ruby was shipped from New York City to London after being seduced by an older married man when Ruby was sixteen. Ruined for a society marriage, her father sent her to live with his old friend and his family in London so Ruby could have a new start. At some point, Ruby wanted more from the relationship than Tamsyn could give-I think-and their friendship disintegrated. This relationship felt forced to me and distracted from the mystery.
Ruby is a deeply troubled character. Forced to leave home at such a young age, she loses her parents and younger sister years later at sea. She was an ambulance driver for the Great War, moving wounded soldiers from the front lines. Her relationship with Tamsyn fell apart during this period. Once Ruby returns to Penryth Hall, those old feelings for Tamsyn return, and Ruby doesn’t handle them well. Ruby becomes a bit self-centered and that was off-putting.
This isn’t a bad book. The mystery gets lost at times, and when that happened, I forgot why I was reading the book. As far as characters go, Ruan Kivell is the most interesting character, in my opinion. As far as the villagers are concerned, he has supernatural powers and is seen as the Pellar. Ruan is conflicted about his role and the pressure he is under to have all of the answers, especially when murder and an old curse is involved.
If historical mysteries set in the twenties, old English castles, and a hint of the supernatural is your thing, then this book may be for you. It really didn’t resonate with me, and if there are more books after this one, I probably won’t be reading them.
Thanks to #NetGalley and #St. Martin’s Press for a copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books
Pub date: 12/05/2023