THE HAUNTING OF LAS LAGRIMAS by W.M. Cleese.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Plagued by memories and nightmares of Las Lágrimas, Ursula Kelp, former head gardener of that estate, now seeks haven in an English seaside town. With Argentina, the House of Tears, and the pampas far behind her, Ursula should be at rest. Yet no matter how she tries, she cannot shake off those dreadful events. Perhaps writing them down will help her be rid of them once and for all.
It all began when a stranger came to visit the mansion home of the Houghtons in Buenos Aires, where Ursula was working as an assistant to a rather gruff head gardener. The stranger had brought important news, and so on his second visit, Ursula made sure to eavesdrop. She would seize this opportunity that many had refused – her chance to be in charge of a grand garden, a chance that would have made her late grandfather proud.
So against much advice, and certainly without the approval of her family, Ursula leaves Buenos Aires and begins the long journey to Las Lágrimas, where she is tasked to restore the garden that has been left derelict for so long. The new Don will take up residence soon, and Ursula faces a monumental task. One that she had never anticipated would come with such challenges. After all, it is called the House of Tears with good reason.
The Haunting of Las Lágrimas is beautifully written account of Ursula’s harrowing experiences at her new employment. As our protagonist recounts her tale, the narrative voice is reminiscent of that in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and the dangers and menace that begin as she nears the estate, so far from Ursula’s reach and comprehension, are an echo of such classic thrillers.
The story moves at a perfect pace, slowly unfurling the secrets of Las Lágrimas as Ursula and her paltry staff begin to clear the gardens and restore their lost magnificence. The worldbuilding is delectably detailed, painting the perfect gothic picture of this once-grand mansion and its grounds. Those few inhabitants who make up Ursula’s colleagues are well-portrayed, their obstinacy and mystery adding to the unsettling experience that is The Haunting of Las Lágrimas.