This is a page-turning beach read which will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you like fantasy and the supernatural, you will be engaged immediately. The story has hints of strange creatures returning from the dead, winter people who live between life and death. It hints at magic spells that can return the dead to the land of the living. Children have strange dreams, and dolls and rings might have magical powers. There is evil, murder and mystery lurking everywhere.
It is early in the 1900’s, and Amelia Larkin is investigating the death of her beloved aunt. People have disappeared in a place called “Devil’s Hand Rock”, located in the forest near her aunt’s farmstead. Aunt Sara had been accused of being mad. To prove that she was not, she kept a secret diary, the pages of which she hid all over the house, in hiding places that no one would find. Amelia ferrets out all the pages of the diary from their nooks and crannies and finds all but the last entries. This story revolves around the search for those last entries. There are clues in the diary that danger is coming; a bone ring is found, an odd fox appears and disappears, strange ghostlike apparitions materialize. There are stories of strange creatures, the living dead, dwelling in the woods. Three main families are developed and followed as the book plays out and the mystery unfolds. They are all interconnected in the end.
The first family is Martin and Sara Shea, of West Hall, Vermont, who fell in love as teens. They were made for each other and they married and had a daughter, Gertie, after many unsuccessful pregnancies. Later, a son is born, but he too is lost. Sara was very fragile, and as the losses mounted, her emotional health seemed to deteriorate. Sara’s mother had died in childbirth, and so she was raised by a strange “auntie” who haunted her thoughts. Secrecy and magic surrounded this aunt, and it was believed that she had suffered a terrible death. When Gertie, too, dies in strange circumstances, Sara sinks into a state of depression from which she can’t seem to rise.
Years later, there was another family living in West Hall, the head of which was Alice Washburn, “the egg lady”. With her two children, Fawn and Ruthie, she lived in the same farmhouse that Sara had lived in for her entire life. Ruthie and her sister, Fawn, who has a doll called Mimi, with whom she has conversations, wake up to discover that their mother has disappeared, and the mystery deepens when she doesn’t return home after several days. Searching for their mother, Ruthie discovers a secret hiding spot with documents for an O’Rourke family that she has never heard of, and she sets out to find out about them in hopes of discovering where her mother might be. It is through that investigation that she meets a lady called Candace O’Rourke. Candace eventually creates more mystery for Ruthie as she reveals facts Ruthie had never known.
Meanwhile, a third person, Katherine, moves to West Hall to find out how her husband Gary, recently killed in an accident there, spent his last days, and with whom. Their son Austin had also recently passed away so she was grieving for both. When she discovered Gary had kept secrets from her, she moved to the town to find out more about his clandestine visits there. From here, the mystery deepens and becomes more macabre.
Before the Washburns lived in the Shea farmstead, Amelia had compiled a book from the papers she had salvaged, called, “Visitors From The Other Side: The Secret Diary of Sara Harrison Shea”. This book keeps turning up and is now in the hands of Katherine and Ruthie, almost a century later. The book reveals the relationship between Sara and “Auntie” and hints at Auntie’s true nature. Perhaps Sara was not mad, as the doctor thought, but was really casting spells and seeing the spirits she had called up. Was Sara mad? Was she imagining the things she saw and heard, or was she sane but gifted with strange powers? The reader will determine that when the book ends.
Winter people are “sleepers”, those who have died and been resurrected for seven days, but if certain rules are not followed, the dead will never be able to return to their world and will be doomed to wander for eternity, becoming evil as is their nature, becoming hungry for blood. Do any of these “sleepers” exist? Do any of these three families succeed in returning someone from the dead, in creating a “sleeper”? Do “winter people” really exist somewhere out there?
Some characters were introduced and dropped before they were fully realized. Why were characters like Buzz, Ruthie’s boyfriend, there to begin with? The three main character families are all interconnected, although generations have passed, and together they unravel the mysteries they face. As we learn about their lives, we begin to understand that the mystery goes deep into the past for these interconnected characters, and it may go deep into the future, as well.