When Maud is offered a home, looking after her invalid cousin Juliana it is an opportunity to get away from the horrors she has suffered as a young governess at various houses in late Victorian England. However there is an underlying sense of threat to be found at her new home. Juliana is a demanding person who has managed to drive away all previous carers and whose personality is infinitely variable. Set in Suffolk, the story also includes the ‘devil’ of the title, which is to be found in a painting in the local church. This is being renovated by a young artist called John Shawcross and we gradually see a relationship begin to develop between the two young people. However, like all good gothic tales, this story does not have a straightforward and happy ending. We are led through a series of tense and dark events until there is a resolution.
Patricia Elliott has created a very dark and sombre tale, which leaves us unsure who are the heroes and who are the villains. Maud is a traumatized individual when she arrives at the house and there is nothing there which will help her out of the darkness, especially not the laudanum she takes to help cope with nightmares; even John has times when he doubts her and we are left questioning the meaning of the story we are being told. There is an ambiguity about Maud’s behaviour that leaves us guessing the truth, and I am sure there will be a variety of opinions about the ending and what it really means. The book is truly atmospheric and haunting and will really appeal to young people who enjoy the darkness of the gothic novel and writers such as the Brontes.