When I was offered this book through Amazon First Reads, I jumped at it for several reasons. First, I love gothic fiction. Second, I write gothic fiction. And, third, I lived on an unconnected island off the coast of Maine for seven years and loved it. Thus, this novel appeared to be right in my wheelhouse.
The story begins when Blake Bronson, who was given up at birth, arrives on Block Island looking for her birth mother, Maureen Mills. Maureen lives on the island and works as a waitress at one of the local restaurants. Blake, who is a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, has been sober for only thirty days. She also has a court date back on the mainland following an injury accident she caused while under the influence. It’s off-season for the island, and Blake is the only guest at one of the island’s B&B’s, Whitehall. She confesses her reason for coming to Block to the B&B’s proprietress, Aileen Searles, who helps her by introducing her to the town selectman, Martin Dempsey, who owns the restaurant Maureen works at. Needless to say, the eventual meeting with Maureen doesn’t go well, but, through Martin, Blake discovers she has a sister, Thalia, and, prior to going to bed, writes her a letter and puts it in the post. Unfortunately, the following morning Blake is found dead in the claw-footed tub in her room, her wrists slit. Is it suicide? Or, murder?
Thalia, who hasn’t been back to Block for decades, follows the young woman’s death, ruled a homicide, in the newspapers, but, after receiving Blake’s letter, decides to return to the island to find out what really happened to her sister.
A gloomy island, an old manor house, hidden passageways, and dubious family histories are certainly prime ingredients for a gothic novel. However, I found Blake’s part of the story a bit boring. There was too much introspection and I had a hard time getting through it. It wasn’t until I was about 60% through the novel that it started to take off. Then, for a while it was a real page-turner but, again, it got bogged down in introspection. I also found the ever-pervasive rain to be a downer. Like I said in the beginning, I lived on an island in Maine and we never had rain like that. Maine has abundant sunshine. I think the author would have been better served to have a nor’easter arrive just before the climatic scenes instead of having her characters be constantly dripping wet. The Daughters of Block Island is a good gothic read, but for this reviewer, not a great one.