BY: SUE OWENS WRIGHT
In April 1946, Tessa Field returns to Bramble Hill in the quaint Cornish seaside town of Covington Haven, England, after learning of her aunt Emily Maxwell’s drowning in a boating accident. The moment Tessa sets foot on the grounds of Bramble Hill, long-dormant psychic powers are stirred in her. Through a series of eerie manifestations and unexplained mishaps, she senses an entity in the house is trying to make contact and reveal dark secrets. Tessa narrowly escapes being trampled by a horse ridden by the handsome aristocrat and writer Peter Tremayne, a childhood friend. Upon their unexpected reunion, Tessa is immediately attracted to him, and he to her. Yet, despite their budding romance, she soon becomes distrustful of his true motives. Convinced that her aunt did not die in an accident but was murdered, Tessa investigates and soon becomes entangled in a web of deception, betrayal, and treachery that threatens her very life.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Secret of Bramble Hill by Sue Owens Wright, Tessa Field returns to England from the US in 1946 when her beloved Aunt Emily dies unexpectedly. Arriving at her aunt’s estate, Bramble Hill, Tessa senses something isn’t right about her aunt’s death. Psychic powers she has buried for years suddenly return, warning Tessa of danger, but from whom? Could it be her aunt’s new husband Edward who might have killed Emily for her money? Or was it the famous author, Peter Tremayne, Tessa’s childhood friend, who seems to have ulterior motives in his sudden wooing of Tessa? Determined to prove that her aunt was murdered, Tessa ignores the warnings from her psychic senses and plows ahead, putting her own life in danger.
Wright tells a chilling tale of deception, betrayal, and murder in a quaint and picturesque setting, with a strong plot and endearing characters.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Secret of Bramble Hill by Sue Owens Wright is the story of greed, betrayal, and murder. Our heroine, Tessa Field, is called back to her hometown on the English coast after the death of her aunt, Emily, who died in a boating accident. Or so they claim. But Tessa doesn’t believe it. Blessed, or cursed, with the ability to see and hear the dead, Tessa is sure that her aunt was murdered and an entity in her aunt’s home Bramble Hill is trying to alert her as to who the killer is. As our amateur sleuth soon discovers, there is a number of possible culprits, including the dashing young author, Peter Talbot (now known as Peter Tremayne), a childhood friend of Tessa’s, who she now suspects could be after the fabled smuggler’s treasure purported to be buried on the grounds at Bramble Hill.
The Secret of Bramble Hill is an intriguing historical mystery, with fast-paced action that caught my interest early on and held it all the way through.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love…
~ William Wordsworth
Bramble Hill brooded beneath a Wedgwood blue sky as the taxi traversed the same narrow country lane Tessa Field had so many times before. Lengthening shadows of late afternoon stretched across the lane leading to the stately old manor house. As in her childhood, Tessa counted from a distance the thirteen ornate chimneystacks of Bramble Hill. When, at last, she saw the familiar pigeon weathervane spread rusted iron wings and take circular flight in the wind, she knew she had arrived.
“We’re here, miss,” the driver said.
“Turn in ahead at the courtyard, please.”
Gravel crunched under the taxi wheels as it lumbered past the showy gardens. A kindly looking gent looked up from his hoeing to wave hello as they passed, and she waved back from the taxi window. Could that be Uncle Edward? Aunt Emily had never sent any photos of her second husband after their recent marriage.
Tessa opened the silver compact she had received from her aunt on her sixteenth birthday. It came with the travel case she would carry with her to America. The reflection she saw was not that of the shy, awkward girl of her youth but the countenance of a striking young woman with fiery hair to match her spirit. Smoothing her unruly mane, she tucked the compact into her purse. When she did, her fingers brushed the letter from her uncle that had arrived days earlier. Even before she had opened it, she sensed it bore sad tidings from faraway England.
The next day she boarded a plane bound for England and the quaint Cornish village of Covington Haven. Under happier circumstances, she would be eager to return to the land of her birth. She had longed to have an excuse to leave America, though a proposal of marriage to a wealthy man would have been reason enough to stay for most young English ladies of her class. Something far more compelling and intangible than a telegram brought her back to Bramble Hill.
Once more she unfolded the missive. Perhaps if she read it again, the words might be different.
Dear Tessa, I regret to inform that your aunt is presumed drowned in a boating accident on April 20, 1946. Memorial to be held for her on Saturday next. Fondly, Edward Maxwell.
“Drowned in a boating accident.” The phrase shot from the page like an arrow aimed straight at Tessa’s heart. How could Aunt Emily have drowned? She was an excellent swimmer and had sailed many times before. Aunt Emily was gone. Now Tessa had no other living relative, save for a step-uncle she had never laid eyes on.
The taxi lurched to a stop, and the driver opened the passenger door for her.
“’Ere, let me ’elp you with yer luggage, miss.”
“It’s not heavy. I can manage, thanks.”
“Very good. I’ll be off, then. Enjoy your holiday in our beautiful country.”
“Thank you, but…” She almost corrected the driver for not knowing she was British, until she realized her accent had faded a bit during the time she’d been away and some American slang had slipped into her speech.
“Ta, miss. Very generous of you,” the driver said as Tessa placed a pound note in his palm.
As she watched the taxi rumble back down the path to the main road, she remembered how in years past her aunt was always waiting at the gate to greet her whenever she visited. Any joy she might have felt now in returning to Bramble Hill had died with Aunt Emily.
The profusion of crimson rhododendrons and clusters of shell-pink azaleas were a cheerful contrast to the weathered visage of the house. The imported Italian marble fountain that had once graced the gardens was gone. Gone, too, were the whimsical topiaries where Tessa used to play hide and seek with the young boy from a neighboring estate. During those dreamy childhood summers in Cornwall with Aunt Emily and dear Uncle George, she delighted in wading barefoot in the fountain, pretending she was as beautiful as the alabaster nymph that spouted cool streams of water from pursed stone lips.
Here she could leave behind the bustle of London and the cruel taunts of her classmates at Hardwicke Boarding School. “Witch girl! Witch girl!” they teased the shy child with the strange eyes and even stranger powers of observation. It was true that she sensed things other people couldn’t. Her aunt had called it Tessa’s “gift” and told her that the unusual coloration of her irises–one azure, one amber–made her very special indeed and would bring her luck, like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Despite what Aunt Emily said, Tessa considered her extra-sensory perceptions more curse than gift. Even children in the village teased her, all except for her good friend, Peter.
Rusted hinges shrieked as she opened the iron gate that guarded the entrance to Bramble Hill. So many regrets flooded her mind now as she approached the timeworn steps of the country estate. Nowhere had she felt so safe and loved as in this place. Why had she ever left England? If only she hadn’t met the handsome but brash American GI at a USO dance in London who swept her off her feet during the war.
If she hadn’t kept up their correspondence that ultimately led to a marriage proposal, she might instead have come to live with Aunt Emily for good and her aunt might still be alive. Traveling halfway around the world had brought Tessa no more happiness than she had known here.
Ivy crept along the ancient limestone walls, nearly obscuring the ornately carved beams that framed the lead-paned windows. Chiseled in the ash timbers was a bas-relief of prickly brambles like the ones that choked the damp floor of nearby Hartcombe Wood. Etched above the door in Gothic tracery was the letter “B.”
Standing before the massive oak doors, she lifted the handle of the heavy brass knocker and let it drop with a clank. Fidgeting with the buttons of the cardigan that enveloped her petite but curvaceous frame, she nervously awaited some response from the other side of the door.
At last she heard the sound of footsteps. Surely it was Aunt Emily coming to greet her with a big hug, just as she always had.
No, these heavy footfalls must be Uncle Edward’s. Tessa felt her stomach knot with apprehension as the door latch clicked.
Her knock upon its door resounded to the very foundations of Bramble Hill, sending a shudder through each aged timber and ancient stone. Crystals in the dining room chandeliers shivered, casting shimmering ghosts of light on the walls and floor. Ashes stirred upon the hearths of every room as the house sighed.
© 2016 by Sue Owens Wright