Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor
Author: Jane Healey
Published: March 10th 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .
Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.
Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.
As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?
Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.
An enchanting story of dark secrets, personal desires and sanity awaits the reader in Jane Healey’s debut novel, The Animals at Lockwood Manor. With the threat of the war and the fear induced by the Blitz bombings, this historical mystery offers plenty of haunting menace, malevolence and stark realisation. The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a spellbinding tale from the opening scene, to the closing sequence.
Opening in London in the year 1939, we meet Hetty Cartwright, a hardworking employee of the natural history museum. Hetty is issued with the difficult task of transporting a large collection of animals to a place of protection, away from the capital. Escorting her dearly loved mammals to Lockwood Manor, an old country mansion, Hetty must stay at this locale with her collection. Hetty soon realises that this new post will present a challenge at every corner. Dealing with the gruff Lord Lockwood and his difficult servants are the least of Hetty’s worries. When her animals begin to shift around different locations in the manor and disappear altogether, Hetty’s paranoia sets in. Hetty is convinced that this is the work of someone who doesn’t want her at the manor. Despite this opposition, Hetty finds solace in Lord Lockwood’s troubled daughter Lucy. But Lucy has some closely guarded secrets of her own and she keeps Hetty at arm’s length, but is this for her own protection?
I was immediately intrigued by The Animals at Lockwood Manor by debut novelist Jane Healey. The stunning cover art, along with the time period in which this book is set instantly appealed. I also adore gothic fiction and Jane Healy’s novel very easily slots into this category. All I needed was a roaring fire and a blanket to make the most of this one, it is definitely a winter chiller!
I loved the historical background of The Animals at Lockwood Manor. The idea of a museum collection being saved from imminent destruction at the hands of the German bombers during the Blitz definitely hooked me right in. I was actually a tad surprised that there was no Author’s Note at the back to allude to whether museums in London during this era were evacuated and sent to the relative safety of country estates. I am inspired to go off on a bit of research spree now to find out more! Healey does a fine of capturing this particular time period. An era of chaos, uncertainty and fear, we feel this through all aspects of the book. Likewise, the language employed by Healey’s characters is reflective of this point in time. I also picked up on a number of specific period detail references, from expected social practices, moral codes and gender relations. In addition, Healey explores the dwindling fate of the upper class during the onset of the war. We learn that the aristocracy was learning to negotiate a change in fortune and expectations placed on them by society. There were new roles to negotiate, which we glean through Lord Lockwood’s adoption of the natural history museum’s specimen collection. Healey does an excellent job of outlining this particular aspect of her novel.
I admired the structure of The Animals at Lockwood Manor. A first person side narrative sits alongside the main plotline and this format works to heighten the intense of mood of the tale. This structure also works to extend the often obscure elements of this perplexing novel. In terms of characterisation, I found nothing to fault in this area. We have plenty of characters to sink our teeth into. From the stoic Lord Lockwood, to his fragile daughter Lucy and toiling Hetty, the major protagonists are precisely outlined by Healey. The supporting cast, which is comprised mostly of the staff at Lockwood are also clearly drawn. Healey ramps up the ambiguity and unpredictability of some of her major characters. The author carefully builds on the relationship dynamics of her cast, with particular focus on the burgeoning relationship between Lucy and Hetty. Healey treats the flourishing relationship between these two women delicately.
Full points go to Healey’s stage presence, in particular Lockwood manor, that seems to loom over everything and everyone in this novel. I love nothing more than a creepy, old and troubled country mansion, packed full of secrets. Lockwood epitomises this construct and it certainly delivers lots of bumps in the night, unexplained happenings, ghostly apparitions and disgruntled characters. The tension is set to a high bar, which is aided by Healey’s imagery and descriptive approach. I appreciated the extra presence of the animals from the museum, as these objects add to the tense atmosphere of the novel and they also contribute to Hetty’s confused state of mind at times.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a slow burn historical mystery novel that is gently paced. I would send The Animals at Lockwood Manor in the direction of historical fiction readers and those who appreciate well styled gothic mystery novels.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey was published on 10th March 2020 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.