Picks and Pans Review: Wakefield Hall

updated 06/28/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/28/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Francesca Stanfill

When celebrated Shakespearean actress Joanna Eakins dies, her purportedly grieving husband, a socially irreproachable financier. commissions pretty, young Wall Street Journal reporter Elisabeth Rowan to write the star's biography. It's a job Elisabeth is thrilled to accept—she had long admired Eakins—and she is assured of the family's full cooperation and of access to Joanna's beloved Massachusetts retreat, Wakefield Hall. She does not figure on a host of inimical forces confounding her.

The task for readers is no less onerous. Stanfill, a New York City socialite and author (Shadows and Light), has written a contemporary gothic novel turgid with obvious foreshadowings, stock characters and overwrought prose: "Into this tableau of shimmering coinviviality I ventured—I remember the sheen of blue satin, the touches of malachite and the ghostly reflections cast by candles into silver trays and objects." Wakefield Hall's shameless borrowing from its betters—for example, Jane Eyre and Rebecca—can't help but remind readers of what they are missing. (Villard, $23)

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