The Devil in the Corner by Patricia Elliott | Rating: ★★★★☆
"If a person suffers dreadful dreams of their past, bad enough to make them terrified to lay their head on the pillow, bad enough to drive them mad, what does Mr Quilter prescribe?"
I have to say, upon seeing this story up on Netgalley and reading the plot summary, I was very intrigued. Based on the description alone, the novel promises to be a dark and mysterious, with its setting in a Gothic historical setting. Immediately, the promise of a good story was strong and I jumped at the possibility of reading it sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, in turn for an honest review, I had the privilege of reading this novel. It is just as dark and suspenseful as you’d hope for it to be, taking place in a beautiful countryside scene. There is plenty of mystery to it, and the guilt felt by one of our narrators (we have two: Maud and John) is truly something you begin to feel.
This story will leave you suspicious of many people and the ending is one that you won’t see coming. The Devil in the Corner has a surprising amount of heart in it, for a novel who’s tagline is “how can the devil be stopped when he lives inside you?” And with a quick pace, this novel is definitely something you may be interested in checking out in your spare time.
I began to notice immediately a similarity in the way Patricia paints this world and her characters to that of Lois Duncan’s writing (admittedly, Patricia Elliott’s writing is for an older crowd and a bit more thoughtful) and this is definitely something that fans of Lois’ thrillers will love. Dark, thoughtful, mysterious and oddly intriguing. And with that said, you should expect some moments of thrill throughout the story as well as moments that perhaps may be triggering among various readers.
Our story starts with young Maud having no choice but to become a governess after the death of both her mother and father (not at the same time, mind you), and needing to drop out of her own schooling at such a tender age. Very little is said, for now, about her troubles in the three homes she worked in, except that none of them worked out and she is left clearly shaken from these experiences. After spending two years in this career, filled with bad experiences and disapproval from many, she believes she’s found a light at the end of the tunnel.
This light comes in the form of a long lost cousin, by marriage, who offers to take her in due to her declining health and need for company. Although the letter seems cheery enough and Maud feels a great deal of happiness upon receiving it, the readers will definitely feel suspicious of the arrival of the letter and what awaits for her in the home of Julianna Greenwood. Afterall, how many stories start off so positive only to have a terrifying downfall at some point in the near future?
As Maud makes her way to her new home, she has an encounter — very briefly — with our second point of view, John Schawcross, immediately it is made known that he is a penniless artist. There is a hint of an “instalove”, so this may be a turn off for many readers, but the promise is there for this character and the potential romance. I find it easier to forgive that quick head over heels love when it takes place in a period drama such as this one, and hopefully you will be able to see it in that light as well. Plus — we really don’t know, at this point, if John’s attraction to her is of love or lust.
It is obvious he is a very caring man, as seen in his narration, and unbeknownst to Maud, she will be seeing much more of John; he is working for her cousin to restore a painting in the church called “The Doom”. Overall, he is perhaps the most likeable character of the novel. He is flawed but still remains to be kind and interesting.
He isn’t featured as often as you’d suspect towards the middle portion of this book, but he does play a major part in the start as well as the end. He really proves himself as a loving, kind man who cares for those he loves. It just goes to show you that sometimes, there are people out there who are pure of heart and will be willing to help you through anything that comes your way.
Juliana Greenwood is an odd character, we see right away. Her moods flip and flop around and she seems consistently cold and indifferent, even on her good days in which she tries to be kind. Though she claims sickness and her time of living to be limited, we begin to wonder if this is just for attention and if she is simply depressed. She takes quickly to bossing Maud around, treating her as an unpaid maid or nurse rather than a guest.
There are moments when she is unbearable condescending and her personality becomes more and more suspect. Especially as Maud forms friendships with the help and John; whom Juliana sees as unworthy. She lets it be known that she plans to leave everything to Maud, her only living relative, when she passes away — and she uses this as a tool of manipulation to get her way in dictating who Maud can be around. She is also seen as very mean and strict with money: she won’t even lead a single bit to Maud, who — in secret — needs it for a sleep aid.
Juliana is not well liked and tends to put her nose into her cousins business in an effort to keep her around for company.
Maud, with a desperate need to keep her nightmares of her past as a governess at bay, turns to a slight level of manipulation of her own to receive a small portion of this for free from a young girl who works closely with the doctor. Essentially, she blackmails the young girl into giving her a dosage of this medicine — and soon the girl caves, but promptly withdraws the friendship the two had begun to form.
Later, upon the death of Juliana and the possibility she was murdered, we suspect this young girl more and more due to her actions. Maud and Edie, the girl in question, seem to fight over the affects of our artist and this is only the beginning of a downfall into a madness that is hinted at in both the title and the description we are given. Both girls suspect each other, but only one is labeled as the murderer.
But what is true and what isn’t?
Many subjects are tackled in this novel and manage to be portrayed in a sympathetic light, although the story does come across as slow from time to time. Each character has handfuls of mysterious, unlikeable and likeable moments that make you wonder which narrator has the purest view of each character we come in contact with. It is told, as stated previously, in a split narrative and has three parts to it. For me, part two and three were the most interesting as we watch the characters fall into what their fates hold for them.
As we reach the climax and the end of story, we find ourselves more and more curious as to what has happened.
Addiction, romance, jealousy and failing health are all tied into the very psychological story until finally we are confronted with the truth and a fulfilling ending. Sometimes, you blink and you may miss something that is very crucial to the story. And just when you think you’ve got the novel figured out, you realize you don’t.
And as I’ve hinted, the ending will sneak up on you. You’ll begin to unravel the truth and find out which events were (or weren’t?) amplified by Maud’s addiction and possible hallucinations, and which were spot on. Again, everything you think you know may not be what it seems throughout the novel.
Patricia really does handle her story and characters well, leaving us with very few flaws in her storytelling and does a pretty good job of keeping the language and mannerisms in a true form to the times. I plan to reread the story as soon as I can and purchase a physical copy for myself. I’ll recommend this story to fans of period pieces as well as mysteries or thrillers, in particular I recommend curling up with this novel and a hot drink.
You’re surely in for a ride with this one. I, for one, was not expecting the outcome of the trial featured in the final part of this story.
Trigger warnings: death, possible murder, religion topics that include the destruction of something holy, discussion of the devil, alluding to mental illness, abusive flashbacks that prove to be physical and sexual. Most moments aren’t heavily detailed, but I do try to warn you readers ahead of time just to be safe.