Cruel Sister

The Haunted Ballads - Book 4


Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes’s brother has returned from Hong Kong with a comfortable fortune and a new bride and is planning to build a house on land he’s inherited. Because they want a house as much like an Elizabethan mansion as its “mod cons” will allow, they ask Penny’s lover, Ringan Laine, to work on it as a consultant. Ringan is not only a noted musician but also a designer and architect well versed in the first Elizabeth’s colorful period.

The house is to be on the Isle of Dogs, and Penny’s brother, his new wife, and Penny herself are delighted with the site. Ringan, however, comes away feeling very uncomfortable. A few weeks later, in London on business, he goes back alone, hoping to clear up any misgivings he has about the place. But this visit is even worse than the first. He hears women’s voices, frightening and full of passion, coming from the air around him.

That evening, Ringan is sleeping in Penny’s flat; she has taken her theater troupe to Italy. A late-night phone call from Penny reveals to them both that they had an identical dream. In it, two young women on the Isle of Dogs are fighting. One is begging the other not to drown her. Their speech and their clothes put them firmly in the reign of Henry VIII. Once more, Penny and Ringan are being visited by tragic spirits from their country’s past. 

This is the fourth in Deborah Grabien’s gripping and unusual Haunted Ballad series. Her stories pair two sophisticated and very likable people whose lives are invaded by tortured souls from England’s history. With each encounter, Penny and Ringan are forced to find a way to lay a long-suffering ghost to rest. 

"Grabien's Ringan Laine series is both unusual and entertaining in that she combines British folk music, British history, and the world of the modern recording star with paranormal elements. In this fourth entry (after Matty Groves ), musician/house restorer Ringan Laine is hired to make sure the Tudor-style house that lover Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes's brother wants to build on the Isle of Dogs is authentic. But Ringan begins to hear voices and have terrifying visions, leading him to call upon a group of outstanding historical researchers to help him investigate a 1540 murder. Grabien seamlessly weaves between time periods, making the reader believe in the possibility of the paranormal. As gentle as Barbara Michaels's paranormal suspense novels, Grabien's are also as downright frightening as Daniel Hecht's Cree Black thrillers.

- Library Journal (***Starred Review***)


In Grabien's mesmerizing fourth mystery of ghostly suspense (after 2005's Matty Groves), actress Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes gets a call from her long-absent brother, Stephen, who has returned to London from Hong Kong with his wife, Tamsin, to claim land he inherited on the Isle of Dogs, situated on the Thames. Stephen wants Penny's lover, Ringan Laine, a folk musician and expert in period restoration, to consult on his plan to build a Tudor-style manor house on the site. Ringan's uneasy first steps on the isle are only the prelude to the horror of visions to come. A girl who drowns her sister, a pack of baying dogs and a musician from Henry VIII's court invade Ringan's dreams and his waking life. As in previous entries to the series, one of Ringan's folksongs figures into the story and enhances the drama. Grabien's skillful blend of reality and the supernatural will chill even skeptical readers.

- Publishers Weekly

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