Footsteps in an Empty Room is an Australian ghost story set alternatively in the past and the present. When Australia was first established as a nation, at the dawn of the 19th century, it was a time of not only opportunities, hopes and ambitions, but also chaos. Politicians and celebrities endeavoured to construct a stage that they believed would showcase them as the brightest and most proactive players, as they do today. However, it was, has been and will continue to be this stage on which seemingly ordinary people leave their marks that are vividly remembered.
Back then, the Cunninghams were the most prominent family on the Bellarine Peninsula in today's State of Victoria. The big house Colonsay was owned by wily political strategist Cosmo Cunningham and his beautiful young wife Ambrosine. Their son Bertie was quiet, gentle and sensitive, while their daughter Ada was arrogant and abusive, a spoiled brat. Observing their daily interactions was a twelve-year-old servant called Alice.
Fast forward to the end of the 20th century when the Cunninghams were no more, apart from Rosamund, the reluctant inheritor of Colonsay, her childhood home. It is here where odd things happen – a lingering scent of honeysuckle, sounds of footsteps and whispers, loud bangings and booms, visions of violence and blood, physical attacks on renovation workers, exorcists and clairvoyants. These messages from the dead lead Rosamund on a journey to discover her family's past and confront her own marriage problems.
As the author skilfully guides us back and forth through time and space, we get to witness the misundertandings, failures and tragedies in the lives of three women. However, none of them are hopeless victims as they remain fighters through to the end, taking actions to amend their mistakes and eventually achieving personal growth, success and peace. It is this incredible courage and everlasting faith that is worth celebrating as we read the story today as a piece of historical, horror, romance and/or women's fiction. The existence of ghosts means there is hope.
The author is highly successful in structuring the story, fluently weaving all sorts of surprises and hints into an already thrilling plot, while subtly commenting on complex issues such as gender, racial and social inequality. Her exercise of patience is flawless, showing no signs of taking risks or being tempted to reveal anything before its time, granting readers a sense of suspense and then deep satisfaction. This reviewer would recommend a careful study of this book by those writers who wish to polish their skills in pacing.