Arrowood: Creepy, tragic Gothic mystery

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Arrowood by Laura McHugh fantasy book reviewsArrowood by Laura McHugh

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.

Published on August 9, 2016. A haunting novel from the author of The Weight of Blood about a young woman’s return to her childhood home—and her encounter with the memories and family secrets it holds. Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer. Arden’s return to the town of Keokuk—and the now infamous house that bears her name—is greeted with curiosity. But she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family, she slowly learns, knows more about the Arrowoods’ secrets and their small, closed community than she ever realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined. Arrowood is a powerful and resonant novel that examines the ways in which our lives are shaped by memory. As with her award-winning debut novel, The Weight of Blood, Laura McHugh has written a thrilling novel in which nothing is as it seems, and in which our longing for the past can take hold of the present in insidious and haunting ways.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. I just went to Amazon and ordered it. It sounds like a book I would love.

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