Set in England in 1875, the story has a definite Gothic feel to it. Richards is adept at illustrating the scene. The "Blackened Cottage" where Lisbeth, our protagonist, lives evokes fear with every creaking floorboard. The air she breathes threatens to smother her in gloom.
Richards doesn't hold back with her descriptive narrative. Every adversity that Lisbeth faces is given its due in highly detailed prose. She gets credit for her inventive metaphors. Here are three brief selections that jumped out at me:
There is no response but the wind’s drunken slur.The story is primarily told from Lisbeth's point of view. Not only does she provide the narrative but we also get to read her diary entries and letters to her absent mother, who left the family for reasons unknown (part of Lisbeth's memory loss). To add to the drama, Richards also offers diary entries from the father and wicked confessions from the third man. By doing so, Richards helps the reader bond with Lisbeth and sympathize with her plight. There really are men after her.
His nails scrape my skull like a wolf scraping soil for bones.
I whisper with the breath of a mosquito's wings...
While I believe the intent was to maintain tension, I found a lot of passages that repeated character intentions and internal monologues. The third man's confessions and the father's diary entries say much of the same thing with different wording. Lisbeth dwells on her fate at the hands of one man or another and revisits her revulsion with each encounter.
As this is "a psychological thriller with a twist", you'll have to look hard to find the clues that Richards gives the reader. Other than one obvious clue, they're hard to find and Richards throws a couple red herrings at the reader to mislead us. Once the truth was revealed, I went back and re-read some sections from objective voices. I have to say that Richards pushed the limit here. Even with the clarity afforded by the reveal, there are certain sentences which cross the line. I can't say anything more without spoiling it.
As for the technicals, there were many dialogue punctuation errors, primarily involving commas. Spelling typos were minimal. There was also one historical inaccuracy. At one point, Lisbeth talks about a distance in meters, but the metric system hadn't been adopted outside of the scientific community in England at the time. However, Richards used miles to show the distance between towns. I think most readers will overlook these things.
In summary, Blackened Cottage is a solid debut from A.E. Richards. Her descriptive narrative underscores her attention to detail, helping readers get lost in the dreary winter of 19th century England. Characters are vivid too. While the red herrings thrown at the reader are the size of bluefin tuna, Richards holds true to the plot and her protagonist. Fans of psychological thrillers who don't mind a trip back to the 19th century, or Victorian era historical romance readers looking for something different, will enjoy this book.
Blackened Cottage is available for the Kindle on Amazon UK and US.