The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling is an ambitious spin on a classic gothic tale. While dense prose and a cumbersome magic system weigh down the mystery surrounding Lindridge Hall, there are enough redeeming qualities to beckon you into its halls. Full of gloom and mystery, fans of the genre will enjoy losing themselves in this slow-burn haunting tale.
To preserve her independence and lifestyle, Jane Shoringfield negotiates a marriage of convenience with the well-to-do doctor, Augustine Lawrence. Augustine agrees on the stipulation that Jane never spends the night in his family manor, Lindridge Hall. Jane, seeing nothing suspect about the request, accepts, and the couple wed. Of course, things don’t go to plan, and after an accident, Jane finds herself staying in the very place she promised not to. In the course of her visit, Jane learns her husband may not be the man she thought he was, and the only thing more frightening than discovering his dark secrets is the ghastly apparition that stalks her through the halls.
A woman of numbers and structure, Jane struggles to make sense of the new reality she finds herself in. In a matter of days, her marriage of convenience is shattered by unexpected emotions, supernatural influences, and the harsh reality that her new husband may be hiding disturbing secrets. Her frustration is only outweighed by her terror, but Jane never succumbs to fear. She assesses and adapts, restructuring the lens through which she views the world with every new piece of information gathered. Following a staunchly logical character into the depths of the supernatural is a wildly brilliant choice. With her worldview constantly challenged, it’s impossible to tell whether what Jane is experiencing is real or if she’s simply unraveling, losing herself to the grips of the house and stress.
The Death of Jane Lawrence suffers for the same reasons it thrives: Starling’s lush and detailed storytelling. Starling is a master of using her settings to manifest feelings of unease and tension. Embellished descriptions help transform winding passageways into ominous and foreboding forces, but her tendency to draw out even the most mundane observation becomes tedious fast. About halfway through the novel, Starling loses the balance between bringing a delightfully grotesque world to life and over-writing for the sake of over-writing. This is especially true with the introduction of magic.
It’s with this heaviness that the story stutters in the second act. The mysteries that lure you into macabre manor lose themselves in the raucous of new characters and a shift in the plot that feels as jarring as their intrusion. Tensions rise, but in the chaos of everything changing, the stakes become vague, and confusion overtakes intrigue. As the launching point for the finale, readers may find themselves wishing to crawl back to the atmospheric gothic novel that’s left behind. The shift in direction is where Starling may have been overly ambitious. Without fully exploring plot points already established, the twist comes at the expense of things feeling incomplete. The climax almost makes up for the loose threads, but Starling’s tendency to overwrite takes a satisfying end and drags it out, trailing our waning interest behind it.
The Death of Jabe Lawrence will keep readers on their toes, never allowing even a hint of which direction the novel is going. Those driven by layered mysteries and rolling gothic countrysides will likely find the pleasure in trying to unwind the secrets of Lindridge Hall. Although I got tripped up and stumbled, I’d still encourage anything interested to pick up a copy and make up their own mind.