Christopher Huang has written a thoroughly enjoyable, slightly gothic, Golden-Age style mystery, set in an appropriately spooky Norman-era manor on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. Readers are introduced to the three main characters (Sir Lawrence Linwood’s children) while they are young, in a prologue set a decade or so before World War I, and then follow them some years later, after the war, as they deal with their father’s murder and his rather unusual will. That will, which promises Linwood Hall and all the rest of Sir Lawrence’s estate to whichever of his children figures out who killed him, forms the basis for the mystery to come.
Although at first Alan, Roger, and Caroline seem ambivalent about investigating Sir Lawrence’s death, eventually they each try to figure it out. Along the way, the now grown-up children, who start off seeming vaguely self-centered and even a little bit annoying, develop into more multi-dimensional and more likeable people as they begin to interact with each other again, and slowly start to question both the moral character of their father and the manner of their upbringing. Although Huang provides hints of the resolution throughout Unnatural Ends, readers will still be surprised by the many plot twists, and eventually will be both gratified and saddened by the final ending.
Huang also creates a suitably creepy atmosphere that adds to the overall tension in the book: the nearby village of Linwood Hollow with its residents who are oddly worshipful of Sir Lawrence, the church with its priest hole and odd tunnels, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sir Lawrence’s wife, who was apparently bright and motivated enough to be a female doctor in a time when that was unusual and difficult, but now is an off-kilter and sinister shadow. And without going “full gothic”, there are still enough sharp little moments of horror (the episode of Caroline’s kitten comes to mind) to keep readers on their toes.
On a personal note, I had only two minor issues with Unnatural Ends. The first was that, although I wasn’t ever bored, and can’t really even pinpoint any scenes or sections I would cut, the book simply felt a little bit too long. And at 450 (print) pages overall, it actually is on the long side for a mystery. And the second is that I’m usually not a fan of books which bounce back and forth both in time, or between multiple viewpoints. And this book does both. However Huang marks the shifts clearly in the chapter headings, and in Unnatural Ends, it somehow works. Such minor kvetches aside, though, I found that I simply kept reading…and kept reading…and got cranky when I had to put it down. So that earns it four stars from me, and since I tend to give very few five-star ratings, four stars is a very solid recommendation to read this book. And finally, my thanks to Inkshares for the advanced review copy.