"The Death of Jane Lawrence"| Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson
A marriage of convenience is all that Jane Shoringfield wants. Unmarried farther into adulthood than she should be by societal standards, her childhood guardians are set to move a full day’s journey away. As such, Jane’s independence and ability to continue working hang on her hopes of marrying a man as equally disinterested in a “normal” marriage as she is.
At her guardian’s suggestion, Jane propositions unwed Dr. Augustine Lawrence—really just a business arrangement, she argues, one that will allow them both to avoid the questioning eyes of the townspeople. The arrangement also will garner a nurse and bookkeeper for Dr. Lawrence's medical practice.
Initially hesitant to accept, Augustine relents after Jane displays her intelligence and tenacity during surgery. The excitement and intimacy of experiencing the skill of the talented Dr. Lawrence catches Jane by surprise, and she is delighted at his acceptance. He agrees to her terms of marriage with one of his own: each night Jane will remain above the medical practice while he returns without her to his family home, the decaying Lindridge Hall.
Despite their agreement, the newlyweds find themselves at the ancestral manor on the evening of their wedding. The unexpected and increasing attraction growing between them is palpable and heady, but at sunset Jane is sent back to town with the surgery porter to fulfill Jane and Augustine’s marital terms. When a sudden storm causes the carriage to run off the road in the darkness, Jane finds herself back within the walls of Lindridge Hall and facing her groom, a paranoid, delusional shell of the bold doctor she has started to fall for.
In the morning her beloved doctor is himself once more but by night the halls of the Lawrence family home seem to weigh on her husband’s sanity again. As Jane struggles to discover some explanation for his instability, her own ability to distinguish reality from hallucination withers. Uncovering the secrets locked within Lindridge Hall releases the ghosts of Augustine’s past and renders Jane inseparable from the horrors that he tried in vain to conceal from her.
Set in a parallel version of Victorian England, “The Death of Jane Lawrence” is riveting and keeps its momentum going through the last page. Starling is a phenomenal storyteller in a genre that’s rich with masters of the dark and mysterious. She has managed to create a story that’s both classic and refreshingly new. Fans of “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Crimson Peak” are sure to enjoy this welcome addition of gothic horror.