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  • Jane Y

    Her novel did incredibly well–sold for a record-breaking sum in the UK, became something of a sensation here, and then ended up on television in the UK. The reason? She takes a classic Gothic setting and leaves breadcrumbs in every chapter, along with a ticking clock–the protagonist of the story-within-a-story is terminally ill and wishes to break her lifelong silence on her identity and history by dictating her story to an all-but-unknown writer. The novel has at its heart three mysteries: Who is the elusive author? What happened to her sister? And how do two identical twins manage to behave so wildly differently and pop up in impossible places?

    I recently re-read the book, and it held up well, even to a second re-reading, as you can then see how well Setterfield managed to create and sustain suspense. Also Gothic, of all genres, including mystery, handles foreshadowing most adroitly, as mysteries (of the cozy stripe) aim to make suspects proliferate until virtually the climactic scene, when the number of perpetrators gets narrowed to one (or two). In contrast, the Gothic’s foreshadowing is always hinting at what will be the right direction–except that the outcome should always be the one the reader has never considered.


    Thanks for your encouraging words about the plot lines. Right now, I’m sweating the word count on the novel side, but the proliferating scenes (which exist in an entirely different format, using movie outline software) make story-breaking easier for a limited TV series. And here I was thinking I might not have sufficient scenes to stretch to at least six episodes for a first season.

    Jane Y


    I’m guessing you read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, which is about identicals…but with a wild twist. The genre is Gothic mystery, but set in an indeterminate time that might be the 1950s or the present. The book’s rights sold for the low seven figures in the UK, and the book was turned into a TV series with Vanessa Redgrave, available only from the likes of HMV in the UK, where you can still buy DVDs (but you’d need a multi-region DVD player to see it). The series is quite good, but I’d recommend the book. The twins in this book have distinct deficits, useful for building suspense and narrative tension throughout. And the book’s twist has two stings in it, one answering a question you barely knew existed.