The Spirit of Grace
by Terry Lynn Thomas
California, 1942. Sarah Jane Bennett has been locked in an asylum since her mother’s death the year before. Because she doesn’t remember anything from the horrific event, and was found standing over her mother’s body, she remains under suspect to those who do not believe the death to be an accident. Her father suddenly recalls her to the family mansion, and she finds he has become a best-selling author and has remarried a young, demanding woman.
There are war preparations, blackouts and military stationed on the coast, with much trepidation among the inhabitants of the area. Even with all the tension, Sarah is determined to clear her name and find her mother’s murderer. When another person is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she and her father’s secretary–himself a secretive character and suspected spy–set out to discover clues to the past which have a direct impact on Sarah’s life.
It is hard to categorize this novel. It has historical aspects that revolve around WWII, yet the characters have a much more modern feel. There is a supernatural element, and a definite mystery feel to the story. It is fast-paced–a little too much so–as it appears to relay events over the period of a few days, giving the characters little time for a well-rounded development. This is my usual complaint with mystery novels and one of the reasons I normally choose historical fiction over mysteries–I enjoy spending much time with characters, learning their backgrounds, thoughts and feelings. In this story I did not feel I knew any of the characters, including Sarah, and thus was not attached to her.
The premise of the story is intriguing, but the plot is loose. The characters’ actions do not always mesh with their supposed feelings, and the compressed timeline causes the events to be questionable. Even so, the author has a pleasing writing style and handles atmospheric descriptions very well. I feel that if this novel was expanded with a longer timeline and more character development, it would fill out all of the issues mentioned. As is, this book will find a good audience with those who enjoy quick, historical mystery novels.