The Trembling Hills (Phyllis Whitney, 1956)

trembling hills

Why did you choose this book?

My mother introduced me to Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart.  I’ve always enjoyed reading their books and I decided now was the time to read through them before they go out of print (and out of library collections) forever.

What’s it about?

It’s 1906.  Sara Jerome’s mother is the housekeeper for the Temple family, and Sara is desperately infatuated with Ritchie Temple.  He goes to San Francisco to make his way as an architect, and is staying in the home of the beautiful Judith Renwick.  When Ritchie’s parents die, he offers Sara’s mother a position in California, but she is hesitant to take it until Sara finally convinces her.  Will Sara find love and a new life in SF?


Romantic suspense, Gothic romance


This was Whitney’s third attempt at romantic suspense.  It wasn’t that suspenseful, as I was never really fearing for Sara’s life.  I also thought much of the mystery and intrigue came in too late in the story (last chapter), and too much of the resolution was contrived.  A gentle romance with historical fiction undertones more than Gothic/romantic suspense.  Some dialogue and descriptions may be offensive to modern readers (especially those relating to Chinese servant Ah Foong).

Refresher (here there be spoilers)

No really, this is a book summary/plot synopsis

Ok, I warned you…

Sara and her mother Mary assume their roles in the Renwick household.  Judith and Ritchie have become engaged, and Ritchie is working in the insurance business with Judith’s brother Nick.  Sara begins work as a secretary in their office and befriends the youngest Renwick, plain and precocious Allison.  Judith and Ritchie have their ups and downs, and Ritchie occasionally toys with Sara’s affections, even kissing her and showing up in her room uninvited.

Sara does some investigating, determined to see if her family came from old money, in order to impress Ritchie.  She discovers that her father was Leland Bishop, nephew of the queen of old money SF, Miss Hester Varady.

The earthquake and fire occur, pushing the Renwick entourage out of their soon-to-be-destroyed home, and they take refuge in the Varady mansion.  Also in the home is Geneva Varady, Nick’s betrothed and a shy, quiet soul.

Sara realizes she loves Nick and he loves her, but he won’t marry her because he can’t betray Geneva.

Sara’s mother hates being back in the house she fled after Leland’s death, and there’s something spooky about an upstairs room.

Other stuff happens.

In the end, Hester tells everyone the truth.  Her sister Elizabeth and her husband Martin died in a shipwreck, leaving Leland behind.  She took him in and raised him.  He married a barmaid named Callie, who had a streak of insanity.  She was Geneva’s mother.  Hester forced a divorce and sent Geneva to be raised by nuns until she could later claim her.  Leland married Mary, Sara’s mom, and Sara was born.  They all lived in the Varady mansion.  One day Callie showed up and pushed Leland over the banister in a fit of rage, killing him.  Sara witnessed this but had repressed it.  Hester locked Callie in the upstairs bedroom, Ah Foong gave her a kitten, and Hester has always been haunted by the cat.  Callie eventually died.  Mary and Sara fled to Chicago to make a new life for themselves in the wake of Callie’s death (though Mary didn’t know of Callie).

Sara was disinherited by Hester, but became a successful dressmaker with Mary’s help.

When Geneva learned about her mother’s insanity and about Sara’s love for Nick, she ran to the ruined Renwick place.  A wall collapsed, killing her, and leaving Nick and Sara free to marry.

Ritchie and Judith reconciled and got married, and he finally buckled down and became an architect.

The End.


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