I shouldn't have picked a 428-page saga to start catching up on Halloween Bingo, but this was a mostly enjoyable read.
The Kennellys have (almost) always lived at Emerald Station, the brooding grey monstrosity in (apparently) upstate New York. But it's not an ancient house; it seems to date only from the mid-1800s, built by Neil Kennelly with the fortune he made in the African diamond fields.
The story begins with Neil arranging for his son Gareth to be married to lovely, orphaned, impoverished Nealanna Yarrow. The year is 1890.
There have already been numerous killings in the family. Neil's brother (?) Holton went on a mass shooting spree that forced the family out of their native area and prompted Neil to build Emerald Station. Then Gareth's intended bride, Deborah Maradine, was brutally murdered, supposedly by a tramp. Supposedly, Gareth's undying love for Deborah is the reason he won't consummate his marriage to Nealanna, but . . . .
The Maradine family is closely entwined with the Kennellys, by friendship and by marriage, as is the Gordon family. Is it connections with the Kennellys that brings misfortune upon these other two families? Tragedy strikes frequently, as the saga moves from 1890 to 1906 to 1918 and on through to 1948.
Is there a curse upon the family or the house or the land? Oddly, that possibility is never raised, despite the gothicky cover blurb and the genre in general. The identities of the murderers aren't hard to figure out, nor the motives, and there's nothing really gothicky about them. The mystery -- if there is one -- lies more with why someone doesn't bring a stop to it all.
The obvious answer is that the family is protecting itself, even while half its members are being murdered, often by other members of the family.
Though I haven't read Susan Howatch's The Rich Are Different (1977) for close to 40 years, I was very much struck by the same kind of atmosphere in Emerald Station (1974).
Winston's writing style is clean and evocative, though sometimes her descriptions of characters upon their first appearance is a bit bland -- hair and eye color, body type, etc. -- and I'm not sure why I noticed this.
I vacillated between three-and-a-half and four stars because of four elements.
First, I had great difficulty keeping the members of the intertwined families straight, especially when they jumped generations, as in the member of one generation marrying someone a generation older or younger. Cousins got mixed up with siblings, and I forgot who was whose aunt and uncle. A family tree would have helped enormously!
Second, the reader is given far more information than the characters are about what actually happens/happened regarding some events, but far less than regarding others! For example:
The reader is told that Alicia killed Jane Stapleton and threw her body in the quarry, and some of the characters know this. But those characters never pass the knowledge on to others. The same is true of Dale Yarrow. Though Neil and Gareth Kennelly (I think) know the truth about Dale, they don't pass this knowledge on, which might have alleviated some of the hatred and anger.
Third, the explanation for Tom Stapleton's hatred of the Kennellys seems over-reaction. There's no real spoiler in this, because it's made quite clear from the beginning: The Maradine family owned the whole valley, and the Stapletons were tenants on part of the land. They didn't own it, and had no expectations of ever owning it. The Maradines kicked the Stapletons off the land and sold part of it to the Kennellys. The seething hatred this gave rise to seemed kind of out of proportion; I wished there had been better motivation provided.
Fourth, there was a lot of emphasis placed on the contents of "the family room," where the portraits and records of the Kennellys were kept in a kind of chapel-like reverence, but Winston never gives any real insight as to what's there, what information the various Kennellys get from having access to all these records. I kept wanting someone to go in there and find out the secrets, but it never happened.
My final rating at 3.5 came down to the ending. While it resolved the third generation of murders and provided some closure to a few of the threads, it also left some dangling. Did Jennings know the truth all along? Was he going to tell Anna and Dan, or just let the whole thing die? Was Anna going to ask him about it, or just let the whole thing die? Did George know? And what, ultimately, was going to happen to Emerald Station?
All in all, it was a good enough read to keep me interested to the end, so I can't complain!