A Ghost from the Past

Newport by Jill Morrow

Release Date: July 7, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
Spring 1921. The Great War is over, Prohibition is in full swing, the Depression still years away, and Newport, Rhode Island's glittering "summer cottages" are inhabited by the gloriously rich families who built them. 

Attorney Adrian De la Noye is no stranger to Newport, having sheltered there during his misspent youth. Though he'd prefer to forget the place, he returns to revise the will of a well-heeled client. Bennett Chapman's offspring have the usual concerns about their father's much-younger fiancee. But when they learn of the old widower's firm belief that his first late wife, who "communicates" via seance, has chosen the beautiful Catherine Walsh for him, they're shocked. And for Adrian, encountering Catherine in the last place he saw her decades ago proves to be a far greater surprise. 

Still, De la Noye is here to handle a will, and he fully intends to do so -- just as soon as he unearths every last secret, otherworldly or not, about the Chapmans, Catherine Walsh... and his own very fraught history. 

Thoughts on Newport
The cover is what first drew me to Newport. It's such an evocative image, and it immediately appealed to my historical fiction-loving heart. I scanned the summary and loved the idea of a book set in 1921 Rhode Island. Unfortunately, I missed the one thing that would've alerted me to the fact that there was going to be an aspect to this book that wouldn't be the right fit for me.

Newport opens with attorney Adrian De La Noye traveling to Newport to assist a client, Bennett Chapman, with his will. Chapman is about to be married to the much-younger Catherine Walsh, and the wealthy man is insistent that she inherit everything. The only problem? His adult children are arguing that he's gone insane. He's only known Catherine for a few weeks, and they believe she's marrying him for his money. But it's his reason for marrying her that's the root of the problem: Chapman believes that his dead wife is telling him to marry Catherine. Are Catherine and her niece conning Mr. Chapman? Has he lost his mind?

It took me a bit of time to get interested in Newport. It focuses very heavily on the characters, and there's a lot of dialogue that made it a little difficult for me to find my footing with the story. Once I began to get a sense of who everyone was and how they were connected, I started to become more intrigued. The setting was appealing - I think Morrow has captured the lifestyle of this wealthy family quite well.

But what did I miss in the summary? The reference to the seances used to communicate with Mr. Chapman's dead wife. If I'd paid a little more attention, there's a good chance I wouldn't have picked this book up in the first place. Spiritualism was very popular in the 1920s. There was a strong desire to communicate with the dead following the devastating loss of life in World War I. Unfortunately, I really dislike reading about it. I enjoy books with a Gothic tone or mystery, like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, but only when the plot doesn't rely on the supernatural. Unfortunately, it played a major role in this book. In that respect, Newport reminded me of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winter. Both are interesting stories, but neither were the right fit for me.

Regardless of my personal dislike for the supernatural elements, I still felt the mystery could have been stronger. The book loses focus on the main conflict - why Mr. Chapman's dead wife is saying that he marry Catherine Walsh - and explores several romances (one in the past, one in the present) that felt very distracting to me. The tension of the mystery was lost in those moments, and I found myself disengaging from the story as a result. I didn't dislike the characters, but I didn't necessarily care about their individual attachments either. I was more curious about whether Mr. Chapman was being conned and why it was important for him to marry.

As for the resolution of the story, I found it a little disappointing. I saw several of the "reveals" coming, and I felt like other aspects were left unresolved. I wanted to have more of my questions answered or to at least have a satisfying explanation for the events in the book. Instead, it all felt a bit unbelievable. It went from somewhat suspenseful to something that made me scratch my head. I debated on the rating because I read it quickly and was interested enough to finish it, but I can't really say that I liked it. I think it will appeal to a certain type of reader, and I wouldn't discourage someone from reading it if they enjoyed this kind of story.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.


  1. This is completely new to me and initially I was starry-eyed: the 1920s! Prohibition! WWI! But, apparently, that's not what this book is about at all. I'm pretty picky when it comes to supernatural elements in novels that aren't straight Horror/Paranormal - Katherine Howe's The House of Velvet and Glass was excellent (a young woman loses her mother and sister on the Titanic and there are seances done to attempt contact with them) but that's about it.

    :( So sorry you were disappointed with this one.

  2. It's unfortunate that you didn't wind up enjoying this one :( But I totally feel you on the seances and the spiritualism of this era, as it's not my particular cup of tea either. Hopefully, you find another historical fiction novel in this era that appeals to you much better!


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