THE BEHOLDERS de Hester Musson

A reading-group historical gothic novel set in a grand house in the 1870s, where the maid finds herself in thrall to her glamorous mistress: but can she trust her? With shades of Alias Grace and Sarah Waters, this is upmarket writing, but with fascinating themes and a page-turning mystery.

by Hester Musson
4th Estate, 2024
(via Mushens Entertainment)

1878. Harriet is a new maid at Finton Hall: beautiful Clara Gethin languishes at home while her husband, a popular MP, is away in London. Her erratic moods and strange behaviour towards her baby son unsettle Harriet, who confides in her diary. Harriet is conflicted herself, reluctant to leave a hard but independent life in service for a stale marriage engagement, and she is intrigued by the strange promise her late mistress forced from her to ‘keep Clara safe’.
She is enchanted by her new mistress’s unearthly singing voice and adores the little boy but doesn’t know if she should trust her good fortune when Clara promotes her well above her station to lady’s maid. There are other mysteries in Finton Hall – the disturbing objects and decorations scattered through the lavish house; the secretive, beautiful servants who seem surprised by and resentful of Harriet’s presence; and the absent master, whose anticipated return comes to fill Harriet with dread. When she learns the truth, she is forced to break with everything she knows. But the truth runs deeper than she can see at first, and the darkness of Finton Hall threatens to destroy even her freedom.

Hester Musson was born in 1977 and grew up in Leicestershire. She studied English Literature at Bristol University and has a masters in drama from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. While pursuing an acting career, her day jobs included working in TV as a freelance autocue operator. She currently writes for Art Fund, the national charity for art, and its magazine Art Quarterly, and blogs for a nature conservation and rewilding organisation in Devon.

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