Jane Healey’s debut, The Animals at Lockwood Manor, illustrates how a grand atmospheric story with exhaustive research, backed by a great story, can bring a resounding mystery to life.

It’s 1939 and with London on the brink of World War II, a young museum director is tasked with moving the majority of the animals from the Natural History Museum out of harm’s way to Lockwood Manor.

The enormous country mansion owned by Major Lockwood is as overbearing as its owner. It’s a difficult adjustment for Hetty Cartwright, a young woman working in a man’s world with no friends nearby and the only ally the Major’s nervy daughter, Lucy, still reeling from the deaths a few months previously of her mother and grandmother in a car accident.

It doesn’t help that the villagers whisper about Lucy’s dead mother, mad by all accounts, haunted since her marriage by a woman in white. Lucy’s own nightmares center on a room she can’t find anywhere in the monstrosity she lives in of over ninety rooms, now stuffed with mammals and birds in some rooms in reality, but she soon makes her peace with the stuffed varieties.

With a friendship blooming between the two young women, countered by the Major’s abrasive manner and a haughty housekeeper, the huge house labors with a dearth of animals and a disappearing staff. Things don’t just go bump in the night, but move around or disappear. Lucy’s nightmares increase, her fragile emotions escalating, and soon Hetty’s own nightmares match Lucy’s in strength and foreboding.

Soon it’s apparent that not all of the ogres are stuffed. Just who is going mad?

After air raids start, things culminate when a party the Major holds runs amok with tragic consequences.

The gothic feel of the novel resounds with a haunting feel that matches the emotions of the two young women, who soon become entwined. With mirrors, sightings, and ghosts making their appearance, it is grounded with the research Healey has completed and absorbed at several natural history museums.

For fans of Rebecca, even Jane Eyre, and anything with a period or gothic feel, coupled with a darn good mystery. An impressive debut.