Harriet Baxter is a young English lady of means who goes to Glasgow in 1888 for the International Exhibition. By sheer chance, she saves the life of an older lady, who happens to be related to Ned Gillespie, an artist of note who is as yet unknown but destined to make a bigger splash in the art scene. Harriet becomes acquainted with the Gillespie family, including their mentally disturbed daughter who is well on the way to becoming a full-fledged delinquent. Things come to a head when the Gillespies’ second daughter goes missing and Harriet is an obvious scapegoat, as a rich outsider who has recently befriended the family. A trial is held and at the final moment, Harriet is exonerated by the testimony of the deranged daughter. She leaves Scotland and lives alone with her finches a the time of recounting the tale, but is consumed by paranoia about her current domestic help, suspecting her of being the deranged daughter who’s been released from the asylum.
Jane Harris writes well, with remarkable insights into the human condition and how one is never really sure how one is perceived by others. As Harriet finds out, a tragedy rips out the heart of every assumption you’ve ever made about your friends and exposes you to what truly lies beneath. The book is good at chronicling the slow descent into paranoia caused by distrust and loneliness, which is inevitably exacerbated by incarceration and the pre-trial circus that surrounds a sensational trial. All in all, a good read, well written and evocative in the right bits.