The Death of Jane Lawrence (Book Review)
By Caitlin Starling
St. Martin’s Press
*A note to my blog readers. I have decided I am no longer going to provide stars on reviews. I find they are distracting from the actual meat of the review and often paint the wrong picture. If you really want a star rating, you can check out my Goodreads, but the skies are blank here from now on.*
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the e-arc!
An atmospheric tale reminiscent of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, this Gothic Horror is creepy, visceral, and absorbing.
Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.
By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound herself to.
As someone who enjoys Gothic Mystery/Horror and Victorian literature in and of itself, one of this novel’s strong points is nailing the conventions of the time period while including modern elements that those of the 1800s couldn’t include. This isn’t to say that the novel is anachronistic, but more realistic while not being too modern. The balance was well struck.
The story starts strong with a lot of nods to the classics, flounders a little bit in the second quarter (it feels too much like a Rebecca copy for a few chapters), but really picks up at about 55% when it goes in a different direction entirely.
The horror elements are excellent. It's very haunting and creeps you out well after you finish reading. If you want to be on the edge of your seat, this one is far scarier than Mexican Gothic (by Sylvia Moreno Garcia). Yet, unlike Mexican Gothic which excelled at description and setting, I had trouble visualizing the home in Jane Lawrence. I was unsure where the cellar was located in relation to the rest of the house and how big the house actually was. I couldn’t get a clear layout in my mind, so certain aspects of the finale were confusing to me. And while I thought the alternate timeline was an interesting setting, I wasn’t really sure what it contributed to the plot. Jane could easily have been an orphan of any of the numerous skirmishes of the real time period (or even the result of a colonial dispute) and it wouldn’t have changed the story.
Yet, one particular aspect (which is also a trope of the genre), I really enjoyed and was excellent. I can’t really say what it is, as it’s a spoiler, but it was fantastic.
Now, magical realism is a sub-genre I, with minimal exceptions, do not enjoy, and the novel strayed into that a bit too much for my liking. While the supernatural (or the suspicion of such) is a trope of the genre, there was just too much magic for me to find the mystery itself that compelling.
It was also disappointing to me that the allusions to Jane’s being on the spectrum or being asexual (it isn’t very clear) weren’t fleshed out. In fact, given a trope of this genre is the handsome, often brooding or temperamental, man of the house, it would be a twist to have a story where the woman wasn’t seduced or affected in some way by his charms. It seemed like the story was building to that in the first few chapters but quickly falls under the standard whirlwind romance. I’m not sure why these references to her not wanting to be married or being awkward around others were included if she reverted into the same (brave, intelligent, and resourceful, yes) heroine we’ve seen in Rebecca, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, and others. Perhaps it’s because the novel tried to include a lot of other concepts, such as medical procedures of the day, so things like Jane’s potential sexuality and/or neurodiversity and the alternative timeline didn’t get enough space.
That being said, I thought the narrative craft in developing the tension between Jane and Augustine was very well done, though I definitely had a “well that escalated quickly” moment when it came to how far she was willing to go to save this man she’s known for like two weeks. Sure, she’s wrapped up in the “I just had sex and I want more” cloud, but is that enough to compel someone to the level she did? To me, that aspect was quite unbelievable and dampened a lot of what follows in the bulk of the novel.
Yet, don't get me wrong, the novel was a very fun read. I very much enjoyed it and the author writes in an evocative style that has a fantastically creepy air and her descriptions of action scenes were top notch.
I would 100% try another book by this author, I think people who enjoy Gothic Horror or mystery will enjoy it and thank you again to the publisher for the advance e-arc.