Serena Mackesy’s suspenseful Hold My Hand weaves the past and the present together to tell the story of a mother in present-day England and an orphaned 9-year-old girl who was murdered during World War II. What ties the two characters together is that they both live in the same manor home called Rospetroc, in a remote area of Cornwall, decades apart.
Bridget Sweeny, the novel's main character, has just taken the job of housekeeper at Rospetroc to escape her past after taking her 6-year-old daughter, Yasmin, and leaving her abusive ex-husband. Her biggest fear is that her husband will find them, and she's done everything she can to prevent this - changing her last name, cutting up her credit cards, and destroying any traces of her past life.
Once a grand manor, Rospetrock is now a crumbling building with unreliable electricity and heating. Its owners have turned it into a bed and breakfast, and Bridget's job is to take care of all of the rooms and any guests. The kitchen is filled with spoiling food, and Bridget spends her first night in the drafty old house without any power. It's clear from the start that her new job isn't going to be easy.
Bridget goes into town to get supplies and learns from the locals that the previous housekeeper left suddenly. It seems like no one in town was interested taking the job. Bridget shrugs her suspicions. She's just happy to have a job and is only concerned about building a new life for her and her daughter. She's not worried that the house may have a disturbing past.
Hold My Hand's other story story arc follows Lily Rickett, the daughter of a prostitute, who was sent to live at Rospetroc in the 1940s during the war. She arrives in rags with a head full of lice and is treated cruelly by Felicity Blakemore, Rospetroc's wealthy owner. She allows her son to assault Lily and barely gives her anything to eat. As the war goes on and food becomes scarce, the starving child tries unsuccessfully to escape Rospetroc and find her mother. She is soon found, and Mrs. Blakemore, who seems to have lost her mind soon after her husband left her for another woman some years earlier, imprisons her in a freezing attic room.
We know from the beginning of the novel that Lily died at Rospetroc, but we're not told exactly how. The novel then brings us back to the present, and we learn more about Bridget's past and why she was so desperate to leave her husband.
Bridget and Yasmin settle into a routine, but strange things begin to happen. Guests staying at the house find their room trashed, and Yasmin denies that she had anything to do with it. Bridget feels like she's being watched in the house and begins to hear children's laughter. Is she becoming paranoid? Yasmin becomes occupied with a new playmate named Lily, and it's clear something ominous is about to happen.
Although at times I wanted the plot to move a little faster and wasn't particularly surprised by the book's conclusion, if you're looking for a creepy, suspenseful tale, Hold My Hand suffices.