Fresh Meat: Bliss House by Laura Benedict

Bliss House by Laura Benedict focuses on a historic Virginia house built in 1887, and despite its blood-stained and mysterious past, it remains alive and vibrant (available June 15, 2014).

Bliss House is a creepy, Southern gothic ghost story from writer Laura Benedict. It’s also a mystery, a whodunit and a howdunit. It’s a story of madness, of new beginnings. It’s loaded with lies and heartbreak and hope. It’s all that and more, yet it never feels unfocused or scattered. More like the solving of a puzzle. It’s a helluva book. 

One corner of the puzzle is Rainey Adams, who’s purchased Bliss House, a kind of tainted family heirloom, after the death of her husband and the maiming of her daughter in a freak accident. She and daughter Ariel are looking for different things upon arrival, and indeed they find them.

It was easier to think about those friends, the ones she had known several years ago, than the ones she’d left behind when she got out of the hospital.

Would they even recognize her if they saw her? Maybe She knew she was looking more like herself every day. In the hallway, she stepped into the powder room, turned on the light, and leaned close to the mirror. If she turned a certain way, her skin looked perfect. But that wasn’t the horror show side. Tilting her chin, just a little, she could see how new, pink-white skin was replacing the scar tissue.

While Ariel sees herself blossoming, Rainey feels herself opening to possibilities as well.

Bliss House glowed. The paneled walls of the central hall wore a gloss of candlelight, and there were flowers everywhere. Rainey had brought in armfuls of tiger lilies from around the pond near the woods, and arranged them with lavender and eucalyptus for the hall and salon. Gracious mounds of hydrangeas filled the dining room. In the midst of the scents of flowers and food and wine, and the sound of the MIDI grand piano playing in the salon, the big house seemed to sigh with pleasure. This was what it had been born for. Bliss House wasn’t meant to be lonely, though she’d thought she needed to be alone here. Maybe she’d been wrong. Having people around her again made her happy.

Another part of the puzzle, another corner, creeping closer to Rainey and Ariel, is the story of Allison, a party girl looking for a good time and instead finding something sinister. Trapped in a nightmare, her connection to Bliss House will be revealed when the house is ready, when the puzzle is complete.

The velvet blindfold fell into Allison’s lap.

Such a strange, unsettling room! Were they in some castle chamber? That was the first impression she had, maybe because of the damp, chilly air… Even the candle flickering in a niche carved into the rough, blank wall seemed to lack warmth. But the adjourning wall was covered by a set of heavy curtains hanging from a thick wooden rod. They were the kind of curtains she’d imagined hanging in a house like Thornfield, in the novel Jane Eyre; curtains that would keep out not just the cold, but the creatures that roamed the moors at night….

But there was no window. Only a gray, unbroken expanse of wall.

It’s, to a lesser degree, the story of Bertie Bliss and her family — Judge Randolph and son Jefferson. Related to Rainey, but in a distant, by-marriage sort of way, Bertie—a bit isolated, simple, and awkward—longs for a closer relationship with Rainey both out of her own loneliness and out of a fear that danger awaits the Adams women inside Bliss House.

Pulling the phone from the pocket of the apron she wore to do housework, she started to dial Rainey’s number, but stopped halfway through and ended the call, worried she might be intruding. She felt such a kinship with Rainey, and wished that Rainey would let her meet Ariel. It was a shame they weren’t related by blood, because then she might have a real claim on Rainey’s time….

Besides, she understood about Bliss House, about what Rainey and that dear child were up against.

Resolving to finally do something, she decided to skip the phone call and go right over to Bliss House to see how Rainey was doing. The Judge didn’t even need to know.

Of course, many of the people of Old Gate have their place in the puzzle, including the woman who dies in Bliss House the night of the housewarming party and her husband, who finds he may not have known her as well as he thought, as well as her friends and lovers.

The book adds a few pieces of puzzle each chapter, some in this corner, some in that. Eventually, you have a border, an edge to contain the missing pieces, until the last few get snapped into place and the picture becomes whole: the brutal truth of Bliss House.

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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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