Countdown to 2023 – Day 7 ‘Christmas Tree’ (24 days remaining)


Today is day 7 of my countdown to 2023.  Today’s prompt is ‘Christmas Tree’ and I’ve chosen a book with a gothic vibe because it’s a style I love to read at this time of the year and so feels very traditional to me.  The prompts can be found here if you want to join in.  I’m hoping to use mostly books read this year.  Let’s begin:

 CHRISTMAS TREE (a traditional winter read)

The Haunting of Las Lagrimas by WM Cleese is a dark and eerie tale that gave me Haunting of Hill House or the Woman in Black type vibes.


Tomorrow: Baubles – these add some colour, a very colourful and striking cover


The Haunting of Las Lagrimas by WM Cleese

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Gothic haunting on cursed estate


I enjoyed The Haunting of Las Lagrimas.  It delivers plenty of gothic-y goodness, is told in journal style via a very pragmatic narrator and the style is a winning mix of old-style yet accessible writing, not enough to be off-putting but enough to set the scene and deliver a feeling of authenticity.

As we make Ursula’s acquaintance she is writing her diary, October 1913, The Hotel Bristol, Mar del Plata.  This is not a pleasurable stay but one of necessity as we soon find out.  Ursula is troubled by terrifying memories of the time she spent at Las Lagrimas and experiences intense fear and sleepless nights.  She eventually lands on the idea to write down her experience in a journal to try and purge her fears and this is where the story begins.

We track back to August.  Ursula is employed by the Houghtons to help with the garden of their property in Buenos Aires but she has greater aspirations and so when she learns that a head gardener is being sought for the Estancia Las Lagrimas, probably the grandest and largest estate on the Pampas, she jumps at the chance.  Now you may wonder why Ursula would be accepted into such a prestigious role during such a period in history – basically, the estate has lain empty for many years following family tragedy, the new owner Don Paquito Agramonte, wishes to return his family to his ancestral home and unfortunately, due to the terrible rumours and superstitions that surround the estate, quite literally, nobody else will entertain the notion of working there.

The setting is perfect for such a tale.  The house and gardens are remote indeed with a two day journey being necessary to reach the nearest small town.  The gardens are overgrown and the house cold and draughty.  There are few staff and only a couple of labourers to assist Ursula with her task, a task so monumental that she initially fears she may have been over enthusiastic in believing she could attempt it. The place itself is frequently weighed down with an oppressive air leaving Ursula and the others overwhelmed with despair.

The garden itself was the creation of a famous designer but now bears little resemblance to his original concept.  Outbuildings lay hidden under masses of weeds and nettles, the forest has grown excessively and on top of this a huge wall has been built between the house and garden that is both puzzling and ominous in nature.  I have to say that Cleese has definitely nailed down the gothic feel here.  On top of which there are no shortage of spooky occurences, creeping footsteps and inexplicable noises in the night, the sound of a woodsman chopping down trees during the day and the inexplicable way that little progress seems to be made in spite of much furious hacking and chopping together with the overnight reinstatement of certain elements that having been removed or improved during the day seem to have reverted to their former state once the morning comes round again.

There are few characters.  Moyano is the building manager.  There is a cook, a maid, a couple of workmen and a general handyman.  Of course, there are other appearances but I won’t elaborate on those here other than to say they are definitely not friendly.

In terms of the plot.  I thought the story surrounding the curse was well thought out.  I really enjoyed the writer’s style which was really evocative of the period providing descriptions that added to the darkness of the tale.  This isn’t a fast paced story but the momentum increases slowly but surely until all hell is eventually let loose.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have any criticisms for myself but I think some may find this a little slow.  I actually really liked the pacing and the descriptions but just wanted to mention that this isn’t necessarily a book that you will speed through – that being said I read this in maybe two or three sittings because I was definitely in the right mood for a spooky and eerie tale.  I would also point out that there are two dogs in the story and a little bit of cruel treatment –  although I didn’t think this was gratuitous at all, just a small warning.

Overall I enjoyed this.  It’s dark and foreboding and deliciously creepy.  It has a feeling of yesteryear and for me it gave me Haunting of Hill House or the Woman in Black type vibes (although I would stress that it in no way mimics either of those stories).

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publishers, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars