Name: The Room in the Attic
Author: Louise Douglas
Number of Pages: 388 (Kindle)
Published: October 12th 2021 by Boldwood Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery
A child who does not know her name…
In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl. An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor. The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, who the staff name Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.
Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…
In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage, Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever. There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.
Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…
All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.
Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls? And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…
The Room in the Attic is a tale told over three timelines – 2021, 1993 and 1903. The majority of the story is spread over the latter two timelines, but begins when Lewis Tyler, working for a firm of architects, is sent to take details on All Hallows, a property acquired by a client and due for renovation.
All Hallows is a former hospital/asylum, repurposed in more recent years as a boarding school, of which Lewis was a former pupil.
The tales unfold and complement each other, adding to the narrative in revelations and mysteries as we learn about All Hallows in 1903, and the arrival of a woman and young girl in mysterious circumstances. Found floating at sea, injured and left for dead, the two are taken to All Hallows, where the girl is placed in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen. The pair are given rooms in the attic, away from the other patients and general goings-on in the hospital, and gradually begin to form a friendship.
In 1993, young Lewis is sent away to boarding school at the behest of his father and stepmother. Mourning the death of his mother in a tragic accident, missing his friends and his old life, Lewis has to find his place in this new environment.
Flooding damage makes the dorm rooms uninhabitable so Lewis finds himself rooming in another part of the school with a boy named Isak, who has family issues of his own, and, after some slightly eerie goings-on, the two of them soon become involved in the mystery of what happened years ago when All Hallows was an asylum.
This has a marvellous setting in All Hallows, which manages to exude an air of creepiness across all timelines.
In the present day it is dilapidated, damaged and neglected, a ruin.
In the school days it retains echoes of happenings of years ago, from the repurposed wards where the young and imaginative Lewis imagines the residents of long ago (and where pupils are sent when they’re on report), to the ill-lit corridors, the strange noises and smells, the echoes of the past.
In the hospital setting we’re mostly with Emma and Harriet as they pass their time in the room in the attic, waiting for Harriet’s mother to regain consciousness. Emma receives updates about daily life in the hospital from her friend and colleague Maria Smith.
Lewis in his youth is a wonderfully imaginative character, imagining himself as a prisoner launching a daring escape as he explores the grounds, going beyond the boundaries set by his teachers. He has a very creative imagination, and imagines the plight of former residents of the asylum. Once he discovers the story of Nurse Everdeen he’s determined to find out what happened many years ago.
The way the revelations drip through from one era to the next is teasingly done. Things are suggested, then a scene will show something to the contrary, or you’re left wondering how on earth such a thing could be possible when the evidence speaks to almost the opposite. It’s hard to detail what I mean without going into spoiler territory and I really don’t want to do that because the mystery kept me turning the pages, needing to know more.
The chapters are short, and the timelines alternate, which kept me thinking ‘just one more chapter’, and so I found myself reading long after I’d decided I should put the book down for a while. I just had to find out what had really happened
The Room in the Attic is a dual-timeline mystery with a subtly spooky air. It’s my first Louise Douglas book but I doubt it will be my last.