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Woman without a Past (1991)

by Phyllis A. Whitney

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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342665,737 (3.09)16
In her thirty-fifth novel of psychological suspense, Phyllis A. Whitney spins a spellbinding tale of a young woman's quest to uncover her true identity.Successful young mystery novelist Molly Hunt, raised by adoptive parents on Long Island, is stunned when a chance encounter leads to a startling revelation. She is apparently the daughter of the aristocratic Mountfort family of Charleston, South Carolina, kidnapped as an infant from their ancestral home - and has an identical twin sister.Travelling to Charleston, Molly meets her delicately lovely long-lost twin; her mother's stern cousin, now the family patriarch, doubtful of Molly's identity and suspicious of her motives; and his tiny, enigmatic wife, a psychic who channels the spirit of a man who died mysteriously on the Mountfort estate a generation before.As Molly searches for the truth of her own origins, she comes to realize that the secrets of her troubled family's past have a strange and powerful hold on the present. Her reappearance in the lives of the Mountfort clan sets in motion events that threaten the family's very existence - as well as her own.… (more)
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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Even though I find Phyllis A. Whitney's books to be a little bit hit and miss, she's still my favorite author of old-school romantic suspense. Where Victoria Holt's romances feel instantaneous and contrived, and Mary Stewart's plotting is often (sorry mom) ludicrous, Whitney's stories have so far offered much more consistently crafted plots, vivid settings, and haunting atmosphere. Her romances don't always work for me (romances seldom do), but the characters do, at least, work up to HEA at a slower, sometimes more smouldering, pace.

Woman Without a Past almost got a pass from me at the bookstore because, geez, the title. And then there's the cover. Actually, it was mostly the cover, but the title screamed Amnesia story! and that's just a no from me on principle. But the back cover rescued the book; a woman is recognised at her editor's office as being the long lost identical twin, kidnapped as a baby, from an old and prominent Charleston (South Carolina) family. Strictly speaking, the title is not at all accurate.

This book drips Southern Gothic. From the prescient cat, to the rocking horse that rocks itself; from the old plantation house, to the slightly mad mother the family tries to keep locked away as much as possible and the cousin that believes she communes with the dead, this book honestly has it all. Except romance; there's a hint of it here and there and there's certainly talk of it, but no actual romance until the very, very end.

In general, the story is well-written, and it's a good story. But a couple of things worked against it; one is probably just a twist of timing, as I started it on the plane, and then struggled to finish it while jet-lag kicked my butt, leaving me with the feeling that it took forever to finish it; the second was my exasperation with the main character. Everyone thinks she's strong and independent, yet at no point in the book did she actually act strong or independent. She mostly just allowed everyone to roll over her. It wasn't enough to make me actively dislike her, but it was enough that I was often impatient with her.

As I said, not her best, but certainly not her worst. Fans of true gothic romance will recognise shades of certain classics in this book; definitely worth a look if you see it in your library or on the bargain rack.

I read this for the Southern Gothic square of Halloween Bingo 2018. ( )
  murderbydeath | Feb 8, 2022 |
ūüĎé didactic narrator, boring
  Renaissancereader | Dec 18, 2020 |
If I had read this book when it was first published, in 1991, I may have liked it. However, I'd like to hope my literary taste has matured a little, because during the entire book I kept thinking,
Do any of these characters have any say in what they do or do not do? Do any of them have the word "no" in their vocabulary?
The story and characters seemed weak to me and in the beginning the author messes up on the location of the main characters birthmark, was it the left or the right wrist? And the time period of when the baby/child was kidnapped, was it one years old? Then why would the twins have a tutor?
There were a few other time periods that didn't make sense.
The twist at the end wasn't even that startling it was more of a finally I'm almost finished with the book now that the truth is out. And when it was out, the man that held the secret should be tried as an accomplice to murder. But maybe that's not the way it's done in the south?
I wouldn't recommend the book.
Afterthought: if you are a Christian this book is not for you. One of the characters becomes possessed by a deceased character and has a seance. Maybe these types of thins were popular again when the book was published? All the "new age" old age pagan demon possession that the character was said to have "higher powers". ( )
  VhartPowers | Dec 27, 2018 |
good story @ kidnapped twin
she writes quick, intriguing stories - get through quickly - good!

Successful New York mystery novelist Molly Hunt, learns that she is the kidnapped daughter of an aristocratic Southern family and has an identical twin sister. She journeys South to solve the puzzle of her background and, discovers secrets which could plunge her into danger.
  christinejoseph | Dec 12, 2015 |
I was a big fan of Phyllis A. Whitney when I was young -- first of her juveniles (still a good read!), then of her adult novels. I see from the book list inside that she wrote quite a few more after I switched to cozy and historical mysteries.

While I did figure out the killer and motive, I didn't guess the who or why the heroine was kidnapped when she was an infant and sold to her adoptive parents.

Molly Hunt doesn't have amnesia, the past she's missing is the one she would have had if she'd been left with her birth parents. Molly knew she was adopted, but had assumed she was given up. She writes mysteries with the kind of strong heroines she wishes she were. A chance meeting with a stranger at her publisher's is how she learns the truth.

Molly is not terribly keen on flying to South Carolina to meet her birth family, especially when she learns that not all of them want to meet her. She doesn't like her original first name. Her birth father is dead. Her sister is thrilled. Her birth mother had never recovered emotionally from losing her older daughter. Is Mrs. Mountfort just a little weird or is she insane? Ms. Whitney gives us plenty of reasons to wonder which answer is correct.

As is usual in this type of book, there are two potential romantic leads. If this book runs true to type, one of them is evil. Is it the one engaged to Molly's sister? Will her sister have to die so the heroine gets the man?

I've never been to Charleston, but I enjoyed the descriptions very much. I also enjoyed the touch of the supernatural and the endearing psychic cat. Molly's comment that she wasn't famous enough yet to have her name appear above the title of her latest book made me chuckle.

If you like romantic suspense, this is a nice example of the genre. It certainly had me turning the pages during the last chapters.

Scott Ordley is the artist for the cover with the impressionist-style landscape of water, trees with low hanging branches, and a little bridge curving over the water. The author's name is above the title and they are in equally large pale orange letters. ( )
  JalenV | Apr 15, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Phyllis A. Whitneyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fields, AnnaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gordley, ScottCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malsch, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Sally Arteseros
my editor and good friend for so many years
with Affection and Gratitude
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I felt almost wonderful.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In her thirty-fifth novel of psychological suspense, Phyllis A. Whitney spins a spellbinding tale of a young woman's quest to uncover her true identity.Successful young mystery novelist Molly Hunt, raised by adoptive parents on Long Island, is stunned when a chance encounter leads to a startling revelation. She is apparently the daughter of the aristocratic Mountfort family of Charleston, South Carolina, kidnapped as an infant from their ancestral home - and has an identical twin sister.Travelling to Charleston, Molly meets her delicately lovely long-lost twin; her mother's stern cousin, now the family patriarch, doubtful of Molly's identity and suspicious of her motives; and his tiny, enigmatic wife, a psychic who channels the spirit of a man who died mysteriously on the Mountfort estate a generation before.As Molly searches for the truth of her own origins, she comes to realize that the secrets of her troubled family's past have a strange and powerful hold on the present. Her reappearance in the lives of the Mountfort clan sets in motion events that threaten the family's very existence - as well as her own.

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Successful young mystery novelist Molly Hunt, raised by adoptive parents on long Island, is stunned when a chance encounter leads to a startling revelation. She is apparently the daughter of the aristocratic Mountfort family of Charleston, South Carolina, kidnapped as an infant from their home - and has an identical twin sister. Overwhelmed, Molly journeys South to solve the puzzle of her beginnings.
In Charleston, Molly meets a cast of characters that both intrigues and disturbs her: delicately lovely long-lost twin; her reclusive mother, driven past sanity by the loss of her infant daughter yet unwilling to accept Molly as her own; her mother's stern cousin, now the family patriarch, doubtful of Molly's identity and suspicious of her motives; and his tiny,  enigmatic wife, a psychic who channels the spirit of a man who died mysteriously on the Mountfort estate a generation before.
As Molly searches Mountfort Hall, the family's historic plantation, for the truth of her own origins, she comes to realize that the secrets of her troubled family's past have a strange and powerful hold on the present. Her reappearance in the lives of the Mountfort clan sets in motion events that threaten the family's very existence - as welll as her own.
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