House of Hate
Dorothy Fletcher | Lancer Books | 1967 | 223 pages
A young nurse is pulled into a family drama that may conceal an undercurrent of deadly malice, in a story that takes far too long in establishing the danger lurking in her midst.
Twenty-six year old year nurse Norma Theale accepts a position as live-in companion to Madame Victoire Thibault, a cultured but aristocratic matriarch living in her family’s Gilded Age mansion on Central Park. Heavily made-up and perfumed, the elderly patient’s needs are primarily social rather than medical (the biggest requirement seems to be sessions of reading aloud), helping her to compensate for the family rift between her and her son. Norma finds herself drawn to the eccentric and withdrawn Nicolas Thibault, a musical genius at the violin, but derided by his mother for not having an acceptable profession.
Henri Longeray, married to Victoire’s coldly distant daughter Michelle, occupies the position of de-facto head of the family, since he manages the Thibault’s successful art gallery operation, originally started in Paris a generation ago. Simone, Victoire’s orphaned grandniece, also lives in the estate, and due to the proximity in age with her mother’s new nurse, becomes Norma’s close friend and confidante. As Norma’s feelings for Nicolas deepen, she is shocked at his uncharacteristically violent reaction when an art theft at the gallery turns the family’s suspicions towards him.
Learning that Madame Thibault holds a tight grasp on the finances of all the family members, leaving them completely dependent upon her goodwill, Norma begins to fear that someone in the mansion may not be completely invested in Victoire’s continued good health. Entering Madame’s room late one evening, Norma startles an intruder looming over Victoire’s bed, scaring him off before she is able to get a close look at his face—but she fears she recognizes Nicolas’ lanky profile. Later, after coming across a trunk full of old family photos, Norma finds pictures of Victoire scribbled over with Nicolas’ childhood scrawl, “Je te détèste, ma mère.” She is forced to consider how deep the hatred runs in the man she now professes to love.
Far more weighted toward romance than gothic mystery, House of Hate shades Nicolas with growing layers of suspicion until Norma finally interrupts an attempted murder, revealing the true secrets at Thibault mansion. Occasional incidents—an overheard financial argument or a sudden turn in Madame Thibault’s condition–fail to fully paint a picture of malicious intention operating under the surface of family relations. The epilogue does deliver an unexpected retribution—or more correctly, lack of retribution—for the criminal, and an acrophobic character’s fate is served up as a strange, postscript punch line.