After years of covering crime for a newspaper, Eleanor Harper suffers the cumulative effect of seeing so much violence and horror. Diagnosed with PTSD, she is forced to leave her job. Although her experience would land her a position at another newspaper, she wants to make a complete change. As luck would have it, the perfect opportunity lands at her doorstep. Cliffside Manor, a respected retreat for artists and writers, needs someone to replace its longtime director, Penelope Dare. Eleanor feels herself drawn to Cliffside, located on the shores of Lake Superior. Almost too easily, “Miss Penny” makes an offer that Eleanor finds hard to refuse.
While Eleanor is excited about beginning a new chapter in her life, she can’t shake the feeling of dread that overtakes her upon glimpsing the foreboding mansion through the fog.“Something wicked was indeed wending its way into my life, only I was too caught up in my circumstances to notice,” she observes. Miss Penny is there to greet her, but their time together will be brief. Even before Eleanor can settle in, Miss Penny is found dead, an apparent suicide, her face garishly painted to resemble a grotesque doll. A suicide note, clutched in Miss Penny’s hand, explains that she’s lonely and wants to join her father and sister, Chamomile. The two died in an automobile accident 20 years ago. Later that evening, Eleanor finds another note within her bed covers. Written in Miss Penny’s hand, Eleanor is told she has a mystery to solve adding, “My nightmare is over. Yours, however, is just beginning.”
In 1925, Chester Dare, Miss Penny’s father, built Cliffside as a sanatorium for TB patients. Back then, tuberculosis was a killer, a highly contagious disease with a low survival rate. The victims, many of them children, were sent to Cliffside, not only for their own comfort and treatment, but to prevent them from infecting others. In the early 1950s, the sanatorium was closed, and after being thoroughly disinfected, was soon reopened as a retreat for artists and writers.
Almost immediately, however, Eleanor senses that Cliffside has not escaped its past. Death lurks in the hallways and on the grounds. While Eleanor has never believed in ghosts, one evening she hears children laughing and running around on the mansion’s third floor, even though there are no longer children at Cliffside. On a daytime walk, she encounters an elderly man on the mansion grounds who warns her that death will come for her, too.
Despite Cliffside’s history and and the tragedy that visited the Dare family, there’s fierce competition for entry to the retreat and the responsibility for hosting those who come now falls to Eleanor. Aided by Cliffside’s staff, including the cook, Harriet, and her husband, Mr. Baines, who manages the grounds, Eleanor sets to work preparing to greet the incoming group, the last one to be chosen by Miss Penny. While they are an accomplished lot, Eleanor soon discovers that each one has a past connection to Cliffside. Was this all part of Miss Penny’s plan? Part of the mystery Eleanor’s supposed to solve? Things soon spiral out of control, however, and a violent storm makes it impossible for anyone to leave Cliffside. Evil now surrounds the mansion and Eleanor finds herself being pulled into the vortex, unable to help herself or the others.
Wendy Webb, who like Eleanor once worked as a journalist, is building quite a reputation for her ability to craft stories of suspense and terror. Part mystery, part supernatural thriller, The End of Temperance Dare is best read on a sunny beach day, not on a dark and stormy night. Unless you don’t believe in evil ghosts.
The End of Temperance Dare
Author photo by Steve Burmeister