The Secret Diary of Helen Blackstone by Michele Pariza Wacek is an account of Helen’s experience of going home after a five-year absence. From 15 May 1929 to 01 June 1929 Helen describes her struggle to reconnect with her father, her brother “Henry” (who could be Edward at times) and a lifestyle that, unknown to her, had descended into near poverty. She hadn’t exactly wanted to leave their home, but the house she called home had been the scene of a tragedy. Her mother had at first become mad and had finally committed suicide. After an undetermined period of grief, Edward had been sent to school and Helen had been sent to work to help pay for Edward’s school.
Helen left home with mixed feelings. She didn’t want to stay in the house where her mother had died. She also couldn’t understand why she had been sent to Chicago to work as a governess. Blackstone children should not have to work at such a menial occupation. When she and Edward returned, she found she had to do even more menial tasks. The house and home she had left were very different, and not just because her mother had died. Helen would have to do things she had never done before, like cooking meals for her father and brother.
Helen had never had a close relationship with her father. He would isolate himself from the family by spending most of his time in his study. Friends and business colleagues would meet him there; there would be drinking, smoking cigars, and an atmosphere of conviviality, but no other family members entered father’s study. Helen occupied her time taking care of Edward, nowadays Henry, becoming a surrogate mother even before her mother’s death. Mom spent her time writing ceaselessly in a diary. Before her mother’s death, Helen may not have had a satisfactory life, but she felt financially comfortable.
When her father met her at the station he smelled of whiskey. His clothing was shabby; he appeared defeated. He didn’t meet Edward and Helen in their car but in a borrowed and well-used carriage driven by James, a childhood friend of Helen’s. Helen didn’t know exactly where they were going and was soon horrified to realize they were going back to the house where her mother had died, a house labeled by locals as Mad Martha’s house. Helen’s father had promised to sell the house but that had not happened. Gertrude and Cook only worked four days a week now. Helen’s father said it was because they were old; Helen thought it was because keeping them full time was too expensive. Helen would have to cook and clean. At least she knew how to take care of the cleaning part; she could not cook.
Locals thought the house was haunted, hence the name, Mad Martha’s house. Helen didn’t believe in ghosts, even after nightly dreams when she saw her mother. In her dreams, Martha was obviously distressed and asked Helen if she had found “it,” never specifying what “it” was. Martha warned Helen that she had to protect Henry. Helen did not like the interruption of her sleep, worried it over in her mind, but recognized it only as a dream. She became more concerned when she discovered Henry sleepwalking. When he talked in his sleep, he muttered some of the same phrases Helen had heard in her dream from Martha. Henry was also concerned with “it.”
This is a short teaser for a two-book series Secrets of Redemption. Characters introduced here will appear in a more fully fleshed out form (except for ghosts) in Book One of the series It Began With A Lie. This teaser has several mystery or conflict conclusions; there is no cliffhanger. It is logical that two books can be written from this base. I liked the writing style which as a historical fiction feel to it. This was the era of prohibition which might explain the smell of whiskey Helen always found accompanied her father. Maybe he made the whiskey himself.
For this teaser, there is no sex and little violence. Martha killed herself and Edward/Henry might be cutting himself but there are no graphic descriptions of violence. I will read the two-book series, but they will remain on my TBR shelf for a few weeks. This is a pleasant four Amazon star ghost story if it appeared on Amazon. I received the book free through the author’s newsletter.