I am a Victorian literature fan, so I am delighted when I read from a kindred spirit. Michelle Griep’s “The House at the End of the Moor” not only has a Bronte-loving character, but it’s like she donned Dickens’ writing cap or something and created characters he would love. The story featured three main characters who in their own way were on the run, often in hiding, and in need of the freedom of forgiveness and redemption.
Griep opened her tale in southern England in “an unforgiving landscape” where real-life Dartmoor Prison stood (311). The falsely imprisoned Oliver Ward devised a plan to escape the prison and exonerate himself, while returning for French cell mate Jarney. Constable and lock-up keeper Sebastian Barrow guarded the prisoners. (The name reminded me of Downton Abbey.) He was ruthless to the core, but believed he was serving the Lord. When Oliver escaped, Barrow made it his sworn mission to haul him back to Dartmoor, not unlike Javert in his pursuit of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”
Jane-Eyre-loving Mrs. Dosett, also known as Margaret, had escaped her old life as opera singer, Daisy Lee, when she came to live in Morden Hall on the edge of Dartmoor. She lived a quiet existence with her maid, Nora, her manservant Dobbs, and dog Malcolm. But she missed her father, who owned a bookstore. She wanted to write to him, but feared she’d put them both in danger, the whole reason she was in hiding. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre brought her solace. Oliver’s life intersected with hers when her maid, Nora, lead her to him as he lay dying on the moors. The women took him in to care for him, and his presence opened the door to the outside world and unwanted attention. Oliver and Maggie would work together to exonerate themselves and bring the true villains to justice. They just needed a great plan that took some time to come together.
I thought this was a story about two characters, but found I followed three as I read. All were on different paths in their walk with God. Oliver’s bitterness and anger at times consumed him with rage for the injustices he suffered, leaving little room for true justice and mercy. Maggie Lee hid away when her circumstances made her run. She feared for her life because of men’s actions, so she trusted no man. She had a hard time trusting Oliver. She held unforgiveness in her heart for her father as well. She thought he had signed her life away the first time to Wendell Groat, her manager. But she foolishly signed a contract with the guy the second time.
Barrow thought he was a conduit for God’s judgement on earth. He had a dark secret as well that set him on his own self-created path to redemption. His pursuit of Oliver connected him though with Maggie Lee’s manager. Groat had put a price on her capture, but more was at stake for him. He was demon-like in the way he treated people. Barrow started down a new pathway of thought because of Groat. God wastes nothing to chase down his sheep and draw them close to him, even cruel constables.
Throughout her tale, Griep wove the parable of the prodigal son/the lost son in Luke 15 in the Bible. Chapter 25 was one of my favorite chapters on that score. Oliver fought for the poor and downtrodden in Parliament. He had this positive view of himself tarnished by lies and deceit, which had led to his wrongful conviction. He failed to see the sin in his own life. Maggie asked him to revisit his relationship with his earthly father.
The story grew with momentum. I had some struggle to engage with the story at first. By chapter 11 though, I was hooked. I had cast Ioan Gruffuld (Amazing Grace, Forever) as Oliver Ward and Lily Collins (Mirror, Mirror: Snow White, Les Miserables) as Maggie Lee. Oliver and Maggie were aided by many minor characters and scenes so like those out of Dickens’ novels. The escaped convict story line further gave off a hint of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
Dartmoor Prison still holds prisoners, but it is a museum as well. You can learn about its history from 1806 on and tour the prison. According to their website, the prisoners no longer face a Barrow. They no longer build up the prison either, so “no more quarrying, digging the barren moorland by hand under armed guards,” as Griep described. Brutal punishment is gone as well, and prisoners instead are encouraged to go through programs to ready them for release.
Griep brought about justice and restoration in the end. I found myself cheering on even Barrow. That guy drove me crazy with his “shoot first, ask questions later” approach. She did not leave the story before redeeming him as well. I loved this novel and look forward to reading more from this author. Learn more about Michelle Griep and her writing here.