Shadows in the Mist

Shadows in the Mist - Maureen  McMahon

My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Maureen McMahon’s Shadows in the Mist was surprisingly good for an impulse read. The main reason why I decided on was the title; there was just something about it that caught my attentions. 0.99c price tag would be another reason, which is why I’d ask you to go ahead and give it a try anyway. But in all seriousness, Shadows in the Mist was a fast-paced romantic suspense with a touch of paranormal to keep the readers hooked from page one.

Suzanna was in a rustic cabin in the middle of a wood, trying to focus on writing her latest novel, when she first notices the mists surrounding her cabin, and a dark figure just at the edge of the wooded land. She didn’t know what to make of it at that time. Unfortunately, her (very recently) ex-fiancé David becomes the bearer of bad news; her father, the wealthy shipping magnet, Leopold Dirkston has been found dead at their palatial home, Beacon, standing near Lake Michigan. Suzanna can remember the last time she’d seen her father, laughing at her career choice when she finally told him that she’d like to do something on her own. They were rich as Croesus and Leo could only think like one used to such a lifestyle. When it became obvious that she couldn’t make her father understand her choices of becoming a Romance novelist from her perspective, a frustrated Suzanna decided to take a break in that cabin to meet her deadline. Now her father is dead and she’d never know if they ever would’ve resolved that, or many other issues which have plagued their lives for a long time.

Suzanna’s mother Anna passed away from a riding accident when she was a toddler. In that big house, she grew up basically under the watchful eyes of the motherly housekeeper, Martha Simms because Leo was so distraught over Anna’s sudden death, he couldn’t even take care of himself. Anna was the love of his life and he never remarried. Suzanna has an older step-brother, Colin, from Leo’s first marriage. Colin has been spoiled since childhood by his mother, one of the many negative things in that unhappy marriage. He resented her (and Anna), so they never got along. Suzanna took the hint early and their bond remained fragile at best.

David used to be Suzanna’s playmate when they were younger. I believe they were somewhat close in age. Though David’s father, Giles, isn’t as rich as Leo, they live in their own, more modest dwelling, Spindrift which is a neighbor to Beacon. David and Suzanna’s engagement only seemed the right way to solidify the friendship between the two families. David was also in marina business with Colin; a venture that was funded by Leo right from the start. I gathered Suzanna to be somewhere in her mid 20s, so I was wondering just how young they got engaged as it was said the engagement lasted for 9yrs. before Suzanna broke it off. She felt that it’s not really going to work. It was obvious to me that David was more of cool and distant sort and their relationship was lukewarm at best. I don’t know if they were lovers or not as it was never explained but to me, everything indicated that they weren’t. David’s calm exterior attracted a younger Suzanna. She felt there’s something mysterious about him. But, over the years, she’d come to realize that she wanted more passion than David is interested in. She’s still somewhat pissed that he hasn’t shown much of a reaction over the broken engagement. Nevertheless, he had been a solid presence in Suzanna’s life ever since she can remember, and no matter what, she knows she can rely on him to take care of her.

And then, there was Grant Fenton; Suzanna’s adoptive brother. But their relationship has never been that of a brother and a sister. Leo, who has known life on the streets before his majestic ascension, found Grant trying to steal from him. It may have reminded Leo of his own past, and so, he was willing to give the boy a chance. After Grant’s mother died when he was in his teens, Leo brought him in Beacon to live with his family. He tried to remove the street from Grant’s language and behavior by giving him an education. But you can’t completely remove the street from someone who has known only that way of living in the developing phases of his life. Grant proved to be brilliant though, and trained to become an equally brilliant attorney. He was also groomed by Leo to take over their industry because Colin wasn’t interested in any of that. I was a little puzzled by Suzanna’s relationship with Grant. At one point, it seemed that though she doesn’t harbor any ill feelings, she’s not entirely comfortable in his presence for some reason. They weren’t close by any means and her reluctance only made me feel that she didn’t welcome his presence in the house. Most of the story, I continued to get this impression of dislike between them, so I wasn’t sure until the very last few chapters that who is the H of this story.

Shadows in the Mist is told from first person, Suzanna’s POV. Have to admit that I missed Grant’s POV a lot. I think it would’ve made me understand him a little better than how it was.

When Suzanna returns home to find these people, she doesn’t know what to do. It was an awkward reunion at best, with family members who aren’t used to expressing their feelings openly. But no one told Suzanna the twist in her father’s will at that point. She tries to make small talk but it’s close to impossible in the face of such a tragedy. Suzanna is devastated by the loss. She tries taking comfort in the familiar things, like her own room, by talking to Martha or their cook, Lottie; both of whom have known her since childhood and are equally affectionate towards her.

Suzanna learns the twist of the will soon enough, when Colin blurts out just how deep in debt he was. That to save the company, Leo’s will stipulate that Suzanna must marry Grant and the marriage would have to last at least a year. This shocks Suzanna like nothing else. Marry Grant? How can that be? For that matter, how can her father even think that she can marry him? I then began to understand Suzanna’s ambivalence towards Grant. He was as dark and intense to David’s fair and calm bearing. She was attracted to him but he was not the type to be polite, something that made her uncomfortable. Moreover, she thought he thought her a spoiled princess, though I’ve never read Grant saying any such thing to or about her. When it becomes clear that she has no other way to avoid the marriage, Suzanna decides to go along with it. Grant gives her the impression that he’s also willing to help for the sake of the company.

But there was one thing that bugged me for the most of the story, which was never answered. Colin was married to this ex-actress, Alicia; a shallow, twittering thing. Suzanna tolerated her whiny SIL because she always thought of her as a harmless sort of ornament. But then, one night, while returning from a stroll to the beach, she hears Grant and Alicia whispering urgently somewhere in the garden, giving Suzanna an impression that their relationship is much more than what it seems. It sounded like they were having an affair. Or at the least, has had one in the past and now Alicia was trying to make an issue out of the coming ‘wedding’. I kept waiting for Suzanna to bring this up with Grant to clear the air, or so to speak, but that question was never raised. It was swept aside under the rug as if it never happened. I’m not even sure what the point of that scene was because the implication didn’t endear Grant to me in any way.
In the course of the story, it becomes clear that Leo didn’t have an ‘accident’ in the pool, where he hit his head. Suzanna had been suspicious for a while. The moment she let her concerns known, mysterious things start happening to her. She begins having nightmares consisting of her dead parents, even starts hallucinating when she one night visualized Leo’s body floating in the water of the now closed pool. When she jumped into the pool without a second thought, as if to save the apparition, surprisingly, it was Grant who jumped in right after to save her. Then, throughout the next chapters, in small ways, Grant starts showing that he actually cares much more for Suzanna than he lets on, something she never even considered before. But those mysterious happenings keep wrecking havoc on Suzanna’s psyche, making her look like she’s having a nervous breakdown. David is also by her side, though Suzanna finds his overly protective presence smothering. But she considers his goodwill and lets him fuss over her.

It’s when they confirm that she and Grant will marry for the sake of the company is when David starts showing his never-before-seen possessive streak by hugging and holding Suzanna whenever he could. Also giving her a few passionate kisses which, though didn’t rouse her, left Suzanna somewhat in a pleasant mood. She even begins considering giving their past relationship a second chance once this marriage to Grant, which will be in name only by her demands, ends. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel the intense pull with David the way she feels it when Grant is near. But what Suzanna right now wants in the familiar surrounding her, and David certainly is the <i>comfort</i> she could rely on anytime.

At one point, Suzanna begins looking for clues all by herself. She was beginning to get frustrated, more so when the local police denies any help, or to even listen to her claims that Leo had been murdered, citing she’s ‘under stress and imagining things’. Then she begins getting threats from unknown source(s), making it clear that the assailant lives nearby; maybe someone so close to her that s/he knows her routine. Suzanna’s first, and obvious, suspect was Grant because he’s the one who stood to gain more than anyone. Then, one day she finds the murder weapon hidden behind a bush. Funnily enough, it was his father’s cat Kong who led her to it. Suzanna knew that Kong was the only living creature that saw her father alive for the last time. The cat continued to mystify us by appearing almost, it seemed, out of nowhere. It did give me goose bumps because it felt as if something was up in the air. Kong’s presence in the story becomes a reference to anticipate something of significance happening soon...

Grant finds Suzanna right after she retrieves the murder weapon. He takes it and tells her that an inquiry is being made in private because of Leo’s status as a business mogul. The hint of a murder can cause bad rep for the company. But by this time, Suzanna is unsure of who to trust anymore. She begins finding faults, considering everybody near her a suspect. She was becoming ill with worry, desperate for answers. She wanted to know who could’ve been so soulless to have killed her father so mercilessly. I could feel the tension in the air, and Suzanna’s helplessness regarding the whole situation.

Suzanna and Grant finally tie the knot in a hush-hush ceremony, with no family member present. With that, the whole family it seemed heaved a sigh of relief. Both she and Grant were enjoying a nicer repartee, without the tinge of the latest tragedy, when Alicia had to go and ruin it for them. She stole some of Suzanna’s registered sleeping pills and took them. It wasn’t clear if she wanted to commit suicide but she becomes unconscious and ill nonetheless. What I found ridiculous was when Grant (and Colin) begins blaming Suzanna for the whole incident. Alicia had a spat with Colin and to calm her nerves, Suzanna gave her one pill. That’s when she spied the bottle in her room. Suzanna just recently learned, from Grant no less, that she was a drug addict. But how was it her fault that Alicia stole the stuff from her room and stuffed herself with it, is beyond my comprehension. It really annoyed me to hear Grant taking Alicia’s side. I don’t know how Suzanna could brush it aside and not feel pissed herself. She <i>was</i> the one who was burdened with thousands of worries, Alicia was just depressed because she might have to ‘live poor’ if Suzanna doesn’t help out. Seesh! The only person, it seemed, cared for her was David. There are a few more incidents like this, not necessarily connected to Alicia, where Grant’s comments to Suzanna came off rather rude. Along with the earlier suspicion of the affair, it was becoming harder for me to consider him as the H of the story. I found it unbelievable just how this moment, he’d do something to show that he cared for Suzanna, then the next, he’d do something entirely opposite to negate the whole thing. David, though not as intense, seemed the better option at that point. But the old adage of ‘looks can be deceiving’ comes back to haunt us as we find out soon...

As the story progressed, several other weird things happen too, seemingly almost proving to everyone that Suzanna might be losing her mind. She keeps seeing the apparition, even as the nightmares of her dead parents continue to plague her, as if they were trying to give her a message. If only she could grasp it! She’d see her mother being thrown from the old, crumbling lighthouse near the beach, which was a favorite haunt of Suzanna to escape from all her troubles. The nightmare would then change and she’d find it’s not her mother, but herself who’s being thrown! It was plain that she was under stress but she obviously wasn’t crazy because she herself kept wondering the state of her mind. <i>Is she really going crazy?</i> Grant stays as ambivalent as ever, whereas David was still adamant about reviving their old relationship. Then Suzanna would find Grant showing the sign of jealousy at her and David’s closeness, which would thrill her a bit more than she’d like. Suzanna’s interest ultimately lay in Grant, and not David. She liked relying on him but she also knew it’s futile. She didn’t want to hurt him but knew that it’s going to have to come to an end, and soon. But right now, the only thing Suzanna wanted was the control of her life back.

While working in the attic to sort out miscellaneous things, Suzanna discovers her mother’s trunk. In there hidden, she finds multiple volumes of her journal. For Suzanna, it felt like unearthing a treasure because she didn’t remember her mother that well. The journals give her some ideas about the person Anna used to be. To her uneasiness, Suzanna also finds some passages giving hints about someone in the house who made Anna very uncomfortable. Suzanna hid the journals well but later, she discovers someone has torn those pages away before she could learn the identity of that person. After that she brings them to her room. Thanks to Kong, soon afterwards, she finds herself checking the journal once more which now sported a big, red warning; that she should get out of the house when there’s still time. In the middle, after Grant’s confession about the investigation, Suzanna went back to the police. This time, the officer in charge was willing to open up. He informs that Leo’s death is being investigated as a homicide. He also seemed concerned and requested Suzanna to stay away from Beacon until it’s all resolved. But she refused to back off like a coward when it’s her <i>home</i> that’s being invaded. After this warning, Suzanna begins realizing that maybe she hadn’t considered the danger all too well, because it was now clear as the daylight that the murderer is in the house!

Giles was trying to warn Suzanna about the danger she’s in. It’s after his murder is when things start going downhill fast. Both David and Suzanna are distraught over the incident as, once again, a dark pall is cast over Beacon and Spindrift. Grant also doesn’t know what to do, wouldn’t even confide in Suzanna about the progress of the investigation of Leo’s case. His and David’s animosity over her is also quite visible. There were times when Suzanna and Grant would spent a few good moments that’d make her think that she might come to rely on him. After a few kisses, she’s even tempted to turn this MOC into something real. Grant can be charming if he so wished, and it was very much apparent that he harbored something deep for her, maybe since their childhood. Even Martha seemed to agree though Suzanna had her doubts. I couldn’t blame her, really. Maybe the thought that Leo would never agree to a match between them had Grant maintaining a distance? I don’t know for sure, but I was still hoping that that scene with Alicia would be cleared out at some point of the story. *sigh*

When things finally begin unraveling, I have to say I was waiting with bated breath to learn the truth. Was Suzanna really seeing something or was she hallucinating? Was Anna’s death an accident in reality or something more sinister like Leo’s? Most importantly, who was it that caused so much trouble and heartache for Suzanna’s family? The author did an excellent job of keeping me guessing, for, the few people I suspected turned out to be innocents. The whole revelation took me by complete surprise as every puzzle began falling into place... Honestly though, I thought there was something very convenient about who turned out to be the murderer. I also thought Grant and Suzanna’s relationship was under-developed. The story was mainly focused on the murder mystery so there wasn’t much on the side of Romance (and no sex scenes). I think there should’ve been a few chapters, maybe even a sequel, to tidy things up.

In the end, even with those questions hanging about, the whole reading experience was incredible for me. The author’s writing was very good. I noticed early in the story that she has an eye for details. I’ve never been anywhere near Lake Michigan, yet I could picture the surroundings of Beacon just from the description (to be fair, I did google later). Her narratives reminded me of "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier, only in a contemporary setting. The story also had the gothic touch of Victoria Holt’s novels, no wonder I was completely absorbed in it! 4 stars and recommended.