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  • Writer's pictureElle Pedri

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau and “Fright With a Purpose”

In the late 90s, I watched a film based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. At the time, I didn’t dwell much upon the movie’s main theme—man’s ever doomed attempts to use scientific advances to usurp God’s authority. Instead, what clung to my mind were the humanized beasts the mad Dr. Moreau had created. For weeks afterward, whenever I closed my eyes, my imagination painted nightmarish scenarios. To this day, I avoid most fiction with horror or paranormal elements, with one exception: Jaime Jo Wright’s stories.

Jaime Jo Wright (who won a Christy Award for her debut novel!) writes spine-chilling novels with titles such as The Curse of Misty Wayfair, The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus, The Premonition at Withers Farm, and more. In her books, the big twists remain grounded in the physical realm no matter how otherworldly the plot seems. Also, her flawed and relatable protagonists usually overcome real-life social and emotional obstacles. When I crack open one of her novels, I’m certain that by the end of the hair-raising tale, I’ll have been treated to clever, rational sleight of hand and will have witnessed the triumph of characters who yielded to emotional growth and spiritual transformation.

I grinned the first time I heard the title of Jaime Jo Wright’s most recent novel, The Vanishing at Castle Moreau. This was one Moreau-titled creative art that wouldn’t cause dark circles under my eyes.

Plot Summary:

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau is a dual-timeline suspense novel set in Wisconsin.

In 1870, orphan Daisy Francois is so desperate to escape her past that she accepts a maid position at the Castle Moreau, a place where women are known to disappear. Her employer, a reclusive authoress of horror novels, conceals many secrets, and might just pluck her published tales from real life. When another girl vanishes from Castle Moreau, Daisy must decide whether to flee to an uncertain fate or unfurl, at the risk of her sanity, the mysteries lurking inside the castle.

In the contemporary timeline, an emotionally broken Cleo Clemmons arrives at a dilapidated Castle Moreau. She’s been hired by the grandson of the castle’s current occupant to help clear his grandmother’s hoarded possessions. But as Cleo sorts through the accumulated piles of things, she unearths secrets that could revive the legend shrouding the old castle.

Interspersed between Daisy’s and Cleo’s POVs, are first-person narrations by “The Girl,” a young resident of the castle who’s regularly glimpsed a mysterious woman with a crooked hand.


Daisy and Cleo are well-drawn protagonists. While maintaining tension, Jaime Jo Wright progressively unpacks the women’s respective pasts to elicit the reader’s sympathy and provide a rationale for why they remained at Castle Moreau despite the eeriness surrounding the place. These heroines are daring, yet vulnerable and teachable.


Jaime Jo Wright usually structures her novels so that the historical and contemporary narratives parallel each other. This model was executed particularly well here. In the last act of the novel, the story moves swiftly between timelines, making it very hard to pause reading. Although I partially guessed the “how” for some of the pivotal elements in the story, the “why” completely surprised me. The big reveals had textured motivations (can’t reveal without spoiling) that left me satisfied.


As with all of Jaime Jo Wright’s novels, the rich prose complements the plot. Descriptions of the castle set up an ominous atmosphere. The emotional turmoil within the characters is well rendered, and touches of humor enliven the tale.

My Takeaway

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau was another hit from Jamie Jo Wright. I continue to be a fan of her “fright with a purpose” writing. She took a fear-driven legend and fashioned a story of hope and honorable family legacy.

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