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Off the Shelves: Moonrise re-imagines a classic romantic mystery
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Author: Cassandra King
Retail price: $26.95
Bookmarks: Five out of five

Liberty Luncheon with Cassandra King
When: Noon to 1 p.m. Friday
Where: Chattahoochee Country Club, 3000 Club Drive, Gainesville
Tickets: $40 per person, including lunch and hardcover book

There is always a risk when an author writes a book openly admitting to drawing inspiration from a timeless classic.

Many readers who are familiar with the material will undoubtedly make comparisons or go into the new version with preconceived pessimism. For those unfamiliar, they might shy away from the modern adaptation, as they feel they won’t understand where the novel is coming from.

In the latest novel from Cassandra King, “Moonrise” is inspired by the 1938 gothic novel by Daphne Du Maurier, “Rebecca.”

Whether or not you have read Du Maurier’s novel, King’s story stands strong on its own, as she entwines mystery, drama and suspense into a beautiful Southern narrative.

Helen Honeycutt, a dietician and cooking show host, has recently married handsome news journalist Emmett Justice. She grows increasingly curious about Emmett’s late wife, the winsome Rosalyn, and even more curious about Moonrise, Rosalyn’s Victorian estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

While Emmett is reluctant to return to his deceased wife’s mansion, Helen convinces him to take her there and introduce her to his friends. Helen does her best to fit in, but it becomes clear Emmett’s friends have no desire to welcome her in their circle.

To make matters worse, Helen begins to suspect dark secrets are hidden in the walls of Moonrise, including the hostile spirit of Rosalyn. Helen tries to find answers about what really happened on the night of Rosalyn’s death from Emmett’s friends particularly from the catty Tansy and the rather eccentric Kit — only to realize the truth may be more terrible than she thought. It could destroy her ability to trust and love ever again.

The novel rotates between three narrators: Helen, Tansy and Willa, the caretaker of Moonrise and the adjoining estates. King does an excellent job distinguishing the three voices, from Helen’s eager-to-please, insecure naivety, to Tansy’s brash, opinionated moxie, to Willa’s down-to-earth demeanor.

Each of them has their secrets to hide and anxieties to haunt them. They each handle their personal ghosts differently.

Fortunately, the male characters are given decent depictions as well, unlike other novels in which the focus on the female protagonists results in the men being two-dimensional or antagonists for the women to overcome. One feels sympathy toward Linc, a kindhearted soul who suffered a stroke and bonds with Willa, who helps with his physical therapy. Emmett, who could have easily been written as the typical smug, self-centered husband, displays moments of how tortured he feels about the loss of Rosalyn. Yet he does his best to contain it, so he can give Helen the love and comfort she needs.

Possibly the best character of the story is Moonrise itself. King takes much care and time to describe its gardens, showing their splendor in the moonlight such as the rhododendron tunnel leading to Moonrise is like a mystical gateway. The grand, intimidating majesty of the mansion also reflects the sort of queenly presence Rosalyn exuded, and Helen senses will be impossible to emulate.

"Moonrise" is a wonderful read for those who love stories set in the South. It is perfect for those who enjoy a good gothic-style mystery without being heavy-handed on the paranormal. It may even encourage you to pick up, or reread, “Rebecca,” to see how similar themes transcend over time and remain universal no matter what era in which they are written.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. This will be Cook’s final column as she is taking a hiatus from writing columns.

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