My rating: 2 of 5 stars
History repeats itself at an estate high above the shores of Lake Garda, where a century ago, renowned playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio wrote a drama, considered to be his masterpiece, expressly for his muse, actress Celia Sands. She disappeared without a trace on the eve of its opening, leaving him broken and bereft, and locals believe that she has haunted the estate ever since. Now his grandson, Alessandro, has endowed the property to a historic trust, and as a final tribute to Galeazzo, he plans to stage the play for the public before relinquishing the villa. For the leading lady, he has engaged a fledgling English actress, another Celia Sands, who with trepidation accepts the role and travels to Italy for rehearsals. At the villa, she is assigned the very same room once occupied by her namesake, whose portrait hangs above the bedstead. Celia’s nervousness about taking on her first starring role is exacerbated by tales about ghostly encounters, and the fact that two household staff members are missing adds to her uneasiness. When some unsettling incidents occur, she tries to chalk them up to imagination.
Season of Storms unfolds at a leisurely pace. It’s clear from the outset that events from the past will be mirrored in the present, so the book relies on characters and the process of staging a play as its center. Character development is uneven, however, and it’s unfortunate that Celia remains a reactor, passive and unsophisticated. Although she will come to feel real fear, the reader never does. Part mystery and part romance, both story lines fall a bit flat in spite of the spectacular Gothic setting in which they play out. What works somewhat better is the gradual reveal around modern Celia’s own family history, which is cleverly plotted and does come as a surprise
Susanna Kearsley’s books have been compared to those of Mary Stewart, which is fair, and I’m also reminded of Daphne DuMaurier (excepting the incomparable Rebecca).