The Haunting of Abney Heights by Cat Thomas


An old asylum, a hidden diary and a secret that casts long shadows

When Meg returns to London, she knows she’ll be facing ghosts from her own troubled past.

Yet she doesn’t expect to find her new home so unnerving…

…even if it is a former asylum.

Investigating the mysterious deaths of two asylum patients, Meg discovers an intriguing Edwardian world of steampunk spiritualism, genteel gay romance and radical therapies. Digging deeper, she begins to realise something evil lurked behind the asylum’s liberal façade.

Did the patients find out? Was that why they were killed?

Deciphering a coded document takes her nearer the heart of the asylum’s secrets and reveals shocking truths about Meg’s own life. Her grip on reality crumbles as the dark Edwardian past begins to overtake her.

Can she survive the damaging path to the final piece of the puzzle?

Fans of Laura Purcell, Diane Setterfield, Bridget Collins and Stacey Halls will love this quirky gothic mystery.

(CAUTION: Written and set in the UK, this book uses British spelling and terminology. May contain traces of tea and irony.)

My thoughts

First up – the cover art is gorgeous and eye catching.

Second up – I see Goodreads users are describing this as horror and I can’t help but feel this may put potential readers off if horror isn’t their thing. Conversely, horror fans will be left disappointed. I would describe this more as a very solidly written Gothic mystery.

This is the first book I have read by Cat Thomas and I love her writing. It’s the kind of writing that you somehow instinctively recognise as British. It’s understated yet conveys everything it needs to and implies a little bit more and that really appeals to me. I like the way the story is told too, in two time frames. The contemporary story is told in the first person by Meg, a middle aged divorcee who is none too happy to be back in her childhood neighbourhood, with its accompanying bad memories, due to work commitments. The Edwardian era story unfolds mainly through the journal entries of Ella, a young woman who was a patient at the asylum, and of Doctor Woods, the psychiatrist who was treating Ella and the other patients.

I liked the characters too. Meg has a difficult childhood back story which she is being forced to revisit both by being back in the place where she was so unhappy, and by also having to deal with a trunk of her mother’s belongings which she has been able to avoid until now. She gains a small but dedicated group of supporters in the course of her research and I liked the dynamics of the group, the Scoobys as she nicknames them.

What I felt was lacking, considering the title, was a real feel for Abney Heights, the building which had originally been an asylum. We were led in the direction of it being creepy but I never felt that sense of unease which would have added to my reading experience.

I did see the twists coming, but it didn’t detract from the story, and there was a completely wild card chapter near the end which I definitely didn’t see coming.


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