When Arden Arrowood was a little girl, her younger twin sisters vanished without a trace. The last Arden saw of them was a flash of blonde hair, speeding away in the back of a gold car. A local man with a car fitting the description was questioned; nothing could ever be pinned on him, but the whole town thought he was guilty anyway.
The girls were never found, and their loss became a wound that destroyed the Arrowood family and continues to haunt Arden, now in her twenties. Then her father dies, and Arden learns she has inherited the family home, also called Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa. Reeling from academic and romantic troubles, Arden decides to go home and regroup. But the old house is full of secrets, and Arden soon learns that there might be more to her sisters’ disappearance than she realized as a child.
Arrowood is a twisty Gothic mystery that follows Arden in her search for the girls, or at least for closure. There are twenty-year-old motives and agendas to untangle, along with Arden’s own memories, which are sometimes hazy in the way childhood memories often are, and the house itself has something to say to Arden too. It’s this final element that makes Arrowood a fit for this site — the house is haunted.
It all adds up to a creepy, tragic tale that will appeal to fans of the gothic genre. There are a few elements that can seem predictable simply because they’re gothic tropes — for example, as soon as the Underground Railroad is mentioned, you just know there will be a secret passage or room revealed later — but you don’t always know how they’re going to be deployed, and Laura McHugh keeps us guessing throughout. I found that I was good at picking out the elements of the story that didn’t add up, but not always so good at figuring out what they did add up to! McHugh also creates a fantastic sense of Midwestern place (a skill also seen in her previous novel, The Weight of Blood, though a very different kind of book otherwise).
I find myself wanting to liken it to Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot, which I also read this year; it’s less outright scary than Priest’s book, but with its heroine closer to the central secret, it dug deeper into the emotions for me, and in any case, I think readers who enjoyed one would also enjoy the other. I don’t think Arrowood was really marketed to SFF fans, but there’s plenty here for us.