Thanks to The Nerd Daily and the publisher for an arc to review..
The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling is a gothic horror novel about a marriage between a logical accountant and a charming young doctor, set in his crumbling and creaky manor with its’ ghosts in the walls. Jane Shoringfield picked out Dr Augustine Lawrence for a marriage of convenience that was more like a business arrangement that suited the both of them. He agreed on the condition that she would never spend the night at his home, Lindridge Hall. Well, a change in the weather puts an end to that, and it’s not long until Jane starts to wonder what kind of marriage she has gotten herself into.
Caitlin Starling has said she was inspired by the 2015 film Crimson Peak (directed by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska) and having seen the film, I can definitely appreciate the spooky and creepy gothic goodness of both works. They both feature the tropes of the mysterious husband and the eerie isolation of a decrepit old house. If you liked Crimson Peak, I’d absolutely recommend that you pick up The Death of Jane Lawrence and take a trip to Lindridge Hall.
I don’t usually read too much of the gothic horror genre as in the past I have found it a bit slow, but I enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s previous book The Luminous Dead so much, and that wasn’t my usual genre either, so I wanted to give this a go. Plus it was just in time for the spooky season.
I think my favourite thing about The Death of Jane Lawrence lay in the writing. I liked the way the house was made to feel like a character and constant presence brought to life throughout the book. The writing takes you there without overloading on the description. It really built up a picture of the house in my mind, I could feel the weather, and hear the bumps and creaks in the night. The gore was also very vivid and there were times when I felt like I was seeing what Jane was seeing.
The pacing was near enough perfect. There were some lulls but I felt this was necessary to allow the reader to catch their breath. The writing was easy to follow even when talking about things such as surgery and medical things that I don’t have any real knowledge of. There were parts of the book where the writing felt hectic and rushed but I felt that may have been because that was because there were times were Jane was rushing and becoming almost delirious. If anything this added to the tension.
Another strength was the characters. Both Jane and Mr Lawrence particularly. Mr Lawrence was always keeping me guessing and I loved Jane, she was no-nonsense and took no shit. I liked her methodical approach to things. Her motivation to get married wasn’t setting out to find a love match, she had criteria she wanted to meet for a partnership and convenience and she went out and got it. She observes, sees more than people think she does and isn’t afraid to ask questions. She isn’t the girl from that time period that faints at the sight of blood. When it got to the part in the story where you are reading about her character having to question things and then seeing her become more frazzled and verging on deranged really had me rooting for her, like come on Jane you can do it!
I also enjoyed many scenes with Jane and Mr Lawrence together and I wish there had been more. I liked how she was falling for him despite herself. I enjoyed the romantic part of the story where you could see them being drawn towards each other despite their initial arrangement.
When it comes to themes, I may be wrong, but I feel like the book was trying to blend the lines behind scientific medicine and ritual. I like magic in books to feel realistic and like it could be possible, and whilst I didn’t quite get that from this book, it did get me thinking a number of times about how different belief systems and rituals have things in common with science in maths, like how it can be so methodical. I felt like Jane was the perfect character for this, as she has to take her logical and practical side and apply it to the fact that things around her are happening that really should be a fantasy.
After finishing the book I felt a bit confused, a bit unsettled. Although I knew I didn’t completely “get” the ending, I still felt satisfyingly spooked. Whilst I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Luminous Dead, I am still a fan of Caitlin’s writing and ideas and I will definitely continue to read whatever she brings out.
I would recommend this book to fans of the gothic horror genre, but also to readers that like a bit of dark romance, to readers who like their female protagonists tough as nails, and also to anyone that’s just looking for a spooky read.