It’s Victorian England, and Spiritualism is all the rage. Violet Willoughby’s mother Celeste is a phony medium, using parlor tricks to scam her way up the social ladder. Now, the Willoughbys have been invited to the palatial estate of Rosefield for a grand house party. On this trip, Violet learns something shocking: she is a medium. A real one. And the ghost of a girl from the next estate over, who drowned mysteriously the previous year, is haunting Violet and demanding she solve her murder.
Haunting Violet is both a spooky mystery and a coming-of-age tale for Violet. She is constrained both by her cruel mother and by the strict rules of Victorian society, where even if you save the day, you’d better not be inappropriately dressed while doing it. Violet’s development is compelling as she tries to determine who she wants to be and what kind of life she will live, in a time when young women were not supposed to decide these things for themselves.
There’s a romantic element, too. Violet’s mother is pushing her to marry the wealthy but boring Xavier, but Violet is falling for her childhood friend, Colin, an Irish-born orphan. The choice between Mr. Wrong-but-rich and Mr. Right-but-poor is not new, really, but it works — and Colin makes a great match for Violet. They’ve got loads of chemistry, and he always has her back and wants her to be happy.
Alyxandra Harvey creates a cast of characters who come alive on the page. In addition to Violet and Colin, some good examples are Celeste, who’s fascinating to read about even though she’s a horrible person; Violet’s friend Elizabeth, who’s simply fun; and the ghost characters, who provide many moments of warmth and comic relief in addition to chills. Seriously, I love the ghosts. The lady with the blackberries. The pirate, with his comment about his own death. Lord Marshall’s wife! The schnauzer!
I do wish Violet had solved the murder before I did. The mystery in Haunting Violet bears a resemblance to a very famous story, and once I saw that story’s ghost beneath the surface of this one — pardon the pun — I knew who had done it, and I was right. But even setting that aside, there are a couple of major clues that readers will probably catch but that Violet misses. It’s actually another character who correctly interprets the most significant clue. It would have been much more satisfying if Violet had been the one to figure this out.
These issues with the mystery brought Haunting Violet down a bit in my eyes, as did a distracting error that was repeated several times: “passed” used in place of “past.” On the whole, though, I found it charming, and I enjoyed reading it. Sometimes you just need some goosebumps and a sweet love story on a dark and stormy night.