The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb
They gave her the bed by the window, the one closest to the toy box. That was something, at least. But the very fact that she was there at all, away from home, away from her father, her sisters, her dolls, terrified the girl. Other children were there; she wasn't the only one. But this did little to soothe her.
Father didn't tell her he was leaving her here, that she'd be staying. She thought they were on an outing together, just the two of them, something rare and wonderful. But it wasn't an outing. He had brought her here to leave her in this place, with all of these sick and dying people. She'd clutched his hand as they walked through the foyer to the doctor's office, past patients with sunken eyes and ashen skin, their robes hanging loosely around them, living skeletons who had been nearly consumed by their illnesses. She watched as one man coughed into a handkerchief, staining it bright red with blood. She turned her face toward her father's trousers, not wanting to see any more. Death lived within these walls; she could feel it hanging in the air, as tangible as the fog outside.
'Something wicked this way comes...' - that phrase pretty much describes this book. I've read another book by Wendy Webb, The Fate of Mercy Alban, but it's been several years. What I can recall about it was Gothic leaning toward horror. The End of Temperance Dare is much the same. Eleanor Harper is hired to replace the director of Cliffside Manor, an artist and writer's retreat, upon Miss Penny's retirement. Soon after, Miss Penny is dead and Eleanor has to figure out what comes next for Cliffside, with very little preparation.
Wendy Webb provides the reader with a beautiful lakeside setting, an elegant old house (though it did have a former life as a TB sanatorium - rather creepy), an unprepared 'new head of staff' (who by the way is a little clueless in my book for a seasoned investigative reporter), and the 'fellows' - people who were accepted into the artist/writer program for a month of solitude and peace. Hmmm....not so much peace. I did like the tale. And I listened to it on audio, narrated by Xe Sands. It had a few eye-rolling moments, but I decided to go with them and remember I was reading a Gothic/horror book. It reminded me a bit of some of the stories told by Jennifer McMahon and it also brought to mind a Stephen King TV mini-series, Rose Red. That might give you an inkling about Wendy Webb's way of telling a story. I'll be thinking about reading her backlist and watching for what comes next for her. I like a good ghostly scare.
When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.
But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows―including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks―she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows—and herself—from sinister forces.