Book Review: Thornwood House by Anna Romer

When Audrey Kepler and her eleven-year-old daughter, Bronwyn, move to Thornwood House on the outskirts of  Magpie Creek, a small town in rural Queensland, it doesn't take them long to fall under its spell. The house, willed to Audrey by Tony Jarman, Bronwyn's father, was once the home of his grandfather, Samuel Riordan.

Audrey finds a faded photograph and a letter in the old house and becomes obsessed with the rumour that Samuel Riordan killed Tony's grandmother back in the 1940s, on his return from the war. In her attempt to discover the truth she uncovers another family tragedy and in doing so places herself and her daughter in danger.

Like many, I cannot pass up a book that involves old photographs, letters and abandoned houses. Throw in a mention of World War II and it is definitely heading for my TBR pile. Sadly that's where this book sat, overlooked, until recently and once I'd read it I wondered why I had left it there for so long.

Thornwood House intrigued me from the start. Described as an Australian gothic mystery it certainly falls into this category. What could be more gothic than the sorrowful drabness of the rainy-day funeral which opens the story? Or the suspicious circumstances surrounding a death? Or the person you thought you knew turns out to be an enigma? The elements are all here: mystery, horror, death, romance and a touch of the supernatural. From the first chapter to the exciting denouement, I was totally absorbed in this tale of family secrets.

The story moves smoothly between three time frames: 2006, the 1940s and the 1980s, giving glimpses of the Magpie Creek community in those eras. It is told from Audrey's perspective as she and her daughter adjust to rural life so different to the hectic city living they left behind. Audrey's obsession with Samuel Riordan is fed by letters, a diary and the reluctance of some people to talk about the past. The more she delves, the more she discovers about Tony that raises many questions about the man she thought she knew, his family and the manner of his death. Eventually Audrey pieces together all the clues and makes the connection between the past and the present.

The author's love of the Australian landscape is evident in the vivid descriptions of the old homestead and the countryside in which it nestles. Through Audrey's exploration of her new home the beauty and serenity of Thornwood is experienced first-hand, as well as the unsettling places she stumbles across. The stifling heat of the Australian bush, familiar to me and so accurately described, is at odds with the chilling discoveries Audrey makes.

The atmosphere of the abandoned house and its contents adds to the gothic feel. Shadows, creaking floorboards and light playing through windows are nothing new, but Anna Romer has a knack for building suspense. She cleverly manipulates our imaginations, resulting in many breath-holding moments throughout the book.

The residents of Magpie Creek and the surrounding properties, both newcomers and longtime residents, are a nice balance and reflect the mix of today's society. Audrey's first encounter with one of them is far from welcoming and raises doubts about the wisdom of her move to such an isolated place.

A refreshing introduction to the story line is Danny, one of the main characters. He has a disability that when revealed to Audrey also took me by surprise. The interaction between Audrey and Danny adds warmth and calmness to the story. There are some very lovely and humorous exchanges between them. Anna Romer's depiction of Danny and his disability makes this a very memorable part of the book.

I enjoyed this debut novel from Anna Romer and heartily recommend it to those who love an Australian setting or favour books by authors such as Kate Morton and Kaye Dobbie.


  1. Thanks for this review - I enjoyed Anna Romer's Lyrebird Hill and think I need to move this one up in the pile!

    1. I enjoyed Lyrebird Hill too, but I liked Thornwood House better.

    2. Good to hear! I wonder if she's working on a new novel.

  2. I enjoyed reading your review of Thornwood House, Yvonne. Isn't it great when you dig down into the TBR pile and come up with a gem?

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Makes me wonder how many more gems are sitting in my TBR pile!