THIS GOTHIC is a good, solid first novel. Gay captures a slower-moving time, when people waited patiently for telegrams and traveled by steamer and coach. The story concerns Verity Austen who returns to England from South Africa to claim her inheritance. In the family residence she finds a parlor full of relatives, friends and servants right out of a Charles Addams cartoon. Everything is spooky. Floorboards creek at night, pages from the family Bible disappear, and ultimately murder occurs.

Why Verity doesn't just pack up and leave is hard to understand. She had a good teaching job lined up and would be able to take care of herself very nicely. Instead, she hangs around waiting for the lawyer to read her recently deceased uncle's will. This wait gives her time to fall in love. It also provides Gay with an opportunity to slip in some nice strong writing.

For example: "In the night there were footsteps on the stairs, and soft low voices in the corridor. Someone went to the kitchen and filled a bowl with water. They let the cat out of the scullery and she came upstairs and whined on the landing. Someone came in and out again at the front door and there was the closing of a sash window somewhere in the house. In the morning Harriet was dead."

Some male readers may be offended, however, by Gay's depiction of men as either insipid or handsome. When insipid they are conniving; when handsome, they are rich and aloof. In either case, they lack characater and love it when Verity talks back.

The book builds, not via overt violence and terror, but through thunderstorms, disorienting dreams and a sense of dread. Even those who don't normally read this sort of novel will want to find out what happens to whom and why.