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The Red Thread

The Red Thread

4.0 2
by Roderick Townley

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How do you avenge — or forgive — your own murder four hundred years after it happened?

Prompted by recurrent dreams, sixteen-year-old Dana Landgrave uncovers an ancient crime that has drawn the same souls together through three lifetimes.

There's nothing sinister about the girl's sunlit twenty-first-century American life in Portsmouth, New


How do you avenge — or forgive — your own murder four hundred years after it happened?

Prompted by recurrent dreams, sixteen-year-old Dana Landgrave uncovers an ancient crime that has drawn the same souls together through three lifetimes.

There's nothing sinister about the girl's sunlit twenty-first-century American life in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Yet, centuries ago, terrible things were done — by someone she knows! Could it be her easygoing, easy-to-look-at boyfriend, Chase? Or her younger brother, Ben, who has been confined to a wheelchair since a school bus accident? What about Gianna, her inscrutable enemy on the yearbook staff? Or her eccentric psychotherapist, Dr. Sprague?

As Dana summons courage to reenter the past, each incarnation propels her to new discoveries — and new suspicions — until the threads of all three lives converge in a devastating revelation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

New Hampshire teen Dana Landgrave enters counseling with creepy Dr. Sprague, who repeatedly hypnotizes her in an attempt to find the cause of her eerily real nightmare, in which a boy is being crushed to death by an altar stone. Over the course of these sessions, Dana uncovers "a direct pipeline to two former incarnations," a 16th-century tapestry designer, and an 18th-century painter's assistant. In both cases, what she uncovers about her past behavior disturbs and confuses her. "I don't know who I am anymore, and I'm afraid to find out," she admits. The modern Dana is no jewel—hostile and mouthy, she continually pushes her dreamboat boyfriend, Chase, away—but the real problem here is that the plot is too contrived to be believed. When not only Sprague but also the demonic yearbook editor who took credit for Dana's photographs turn out to be antagonists in her past lives, Dana asks, "What were the chances?" and readers will, too. Coincidences put Dana in London (her home in a past life) for the summer, and lead her to an open-air market where she finds a 16th-century locket that belonged to one of her former selves and that contains a portrait of the boy in her dreams. Townley (The Great Good Thing) raises an intriguing question about the nature of the soul—is it "real, a permanent self that carried over from life to life," Dana wonders—but his characters don't explore it. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Gail C. Krause
Haunted by nightmares and insomnia by night and troubled with claustrophobia by day, sixteen-year-old Dana Landgrove has a difficult time coping with her life, just as she found it difficult to cope in her past lives. She sees a therapist who talks her into letting him hypnotize her to help solve her problems; the problem is that those trips into her past cause her more consternation and worry as she begins to think that she was a murderer in one of those lives. Besides dealing with her problems, she must help her younger brother regain his physical strength and confidence after a school bus accident leaves him confined in a wheelchair. He helps her by identifying a coat of arms on an antique locket her boyfriend purchases for her in an open-air market in Britain. This information leads to a trip to a castle where Dana uncannily knows the intricacies of a tapestry hanging in the great hall. The curator of the museum wonders how she knows so much about it, and she realizes she is an expert on the tapestry because she designed it in a past life. She goes back into two lives and solves the mystery of who actually killed the heir to the Breen castle. All of the people in her present life were also part of her past lives, and each trip back garners new information and discoveries until she realizes that the threads of all three lives come together to reveal the truth. In the end, she is shocked to find out who the real murderer was.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Ghostly, weird, time-bending experiences are the core of The Red Thread's plot. Dana, the heroine, is 16. She has a wonderful boyfriend and they both love and help care for Dana's younger brother Ben, who was severely hurt in an accident. Dana has her own troubles dealing with this accident; and she has horrible nightmares, so her family sends her to a psychiatrist. This doctor encourages Dana to go back in time through hypnosis to previous lives, hoping that by doing so, she can resolve the horrors that are causing her nightmares. Dana lives with her family in America in Portsmouth, NH, a town with a great interest in its history. They all go to England, with Dana's boyfriend Chase along to help out with young Ben, who has to be in a wheelchair. In England Dana is close to places she feels she knows well, places from her past, from other lifetimes. Who has been reincarnated as whom? Is the villain from a past story in Dana's life alive in the present? These questions haunt Dana as she tries to be brave enough to return to the past to resolve the present. Townley seems familiar with the settings and has allowed his adolescent characters to be highly intelligent, responsible people. It's Townley's skill that makes the places and people seem real, and he is able to keep the tension high throughout.
Kirkus Reviews
A tangled mystery leads 16-year-old Dana to tangled emotions, some of which aren't her own, even though they are. Confused? So is Dana. Or is she Hannah, an 18th-century unmarried painter? Or a small boy in 1583, heir to a legacy but murdered at age ten? Plagued by nightmares and waking visions, Dana lets Dr. Sprague try hypnotic therapy. In trances, Dana relives isolated scenes from the past. A trip to England brings another flood of memories as Dana, her ten-year-old brother in a wheelchair and her ever-patient boyfriend Chase follow a locket with a portrait of young William Breen (the boy in Dana's visions) to the Breen family castle. A tapestry and chapel are essential to Dana's past lives. Guilt and shame torment her from her haunting new/old identities. Back in New Hampshire, Sprague and Dana continue the probe to a racing climax. Revenge and devotion (both familial and religious) are prime themes, with first-rate suspense and emotion. Captivating and shivery. (Fantasy. YA)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Red Thread

A Novel in Three Incarnations
By Roderick Townley

Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books

Copyright © 2007 Roderick Townley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416908944

Chapter One: Another Day in Paradise

The space was narrow and dim and smelled of dead rat. Grit from the floor bit his forehead. Sticky warmth worked down his cheek.

He had a moment of panic when he realized he couldn't open his right eye. It was his own blood that sealed it. He ran his sleeve across his face. No good. He pried the lid open with his fingers. Was it night? Why was everything so dark?

He found himself panting as if he'd been running up a staircase. Then he realized it wasn't lack of air but fear that winded him.

Slow down. Breathe.

Still panting, he glanced around. Hemming him in were walls of unfinished wood, not the gleaming paneling of the great rooms and hallways. But light, faint as it was, reached him from somewhere. Then he saw it, a wedgelike opening four feet above the ground, where wood abruptly changed to stone rising in the gloom. If he could reach it!

Holding to the wall, the boy fought to make his legs support him. He swayed uncertainly. Just ten years old, he was not tall for his age and had to stand on tiptoe to see. Through the throbbing in his brain he heard echoing shouts and the clump of booted feet down corridors. He squinted at vague shapes. Steadying himself, herealized he was in the chapel, behind the new marble altarpiece.

Behind it? Suddenly he couldn't breathe again. How did I get here?

Dizziness buckled his legs, but he held on till his vision cleared. A flicker of light. Someone was on the other side of the altar! The candlelight grew brighter. The boy waited, breathless. There were so many people to be scared of these days. Then came a scraping sound, quite loud, quite near, of stone on stone. To his horror, he saw the opening grow an inch narrower, then another inch.

"No!" he cried, pushing back against the marble. But he was too weak, and the altarpiece kept edging back toward him.

"No!" His voice was louder now. "Stop!"

The scraping ceased.

A face appeared at the opening.

"Oh!" The boy sighed with relief, recognizing the pointed beard, dented forehead, and intense gaze he knew so well. "It's you!" His eyes blurred with gratitude. This was the person he trusted above everyone.

The man did not smile or speak. He turned to listen to the thumping of running feet, then moved away from the opening.

"What's the matter?" the boy called out. "What are you doing?"

The altarpiece shuddered and moved slightly, then slightly farther.

"No! The other way!"

The stone moved again. Only a sliver of light remained.

"Don't!" the boy wailed. "Please don't!" His legs failed him and he collapsed in the darkness.

The stone shrugged another inch.

"Not you!" he moaned. The salt of tears mingled with the coppery taste of blood. "Not you, too!"

A final shove, and the massive stone was set in place, leaving the boy in an insanity of blackness.

With a gasp Dana Landgrave lurched up from the pillow, her eyes staring. Her mouth was dry, her heart beating hard. It took a few seconds to realize where she was. Yes, there were the glowing numbers on her clock radio, the milky gleam of the night-light reflected in the glass eyes of her bear. A gentle half light filtered through the window. The curtain stirred. Dawn.

She swung out of bed, planting her feet on the cool floor. She wouldn't risk going back to sleep and dreaming the dream again. It had haunted her a dozen times this spring, but this was the worst. It was as if she were there. But where?

Nowhere. She'd made it up. The doctor had told her it was natural for teenagers to have fears, about life, death, sex, you name it. What Dana had managed to do was turn those fears into a place -- a place that she returned to, furnished, and made real.

So what was this altar business? What was that about?

Whatever it was, the dream kept coming back. And who was the boy? She shut her eyes, trying to think if she knew anyone like him. No one in her school, certainly. In other dreams, Dana had seen his face the way you'd see anyone, from the outside. This was much creepier. She'd felt him, as if she were thinking his thoughts.

The view from the window was obscured by mist, but Dana could hear the river. Its presence calmed her, vague, always flowing, always there, like a parent moving about a nursery. The dream had less of a hold on her when she looked outside. That was why she kept the window open at night -- to hear the slap of waves in the back channel and smell the seaweed. And it helped with her claustrophobia, which was getting worse. It gave her a way out.

She switched on the bedside lamp. Slipping a sweatshirt over her head and pulling on her jeans, Dana wiggled bare feet into her sneakers and stepped from the room, pausing to grab the camera and keys.

The hallway was dim, filled with the sounds of nearby sleepers. There were the soft gasps of her brother on his ventilator, and from down the hall the loud, decisive snorts of her mother. Not very feminine, Dana thought with a half smile. Her father's breathing was inaudible, as if, even asleep, he were listening for the others.

Dana made a quick bathroom stop, throwing water on her face and running her fingers through her hopelessly curly hair. She shot herself a glance. Not bad looking, certainly, but not exactly pretty. Character. That's what people said: Her face had character. Another way to put it was that, at almost seventeen, her nose was too strong and her forehead too high. Was she going bald or something? Dana sighed, giving her curls a shake. How did she ever get a boyfriend?

She headed down the stairs and out the kitchen door, her sneakers crunching on the gravel. The gray minivan stood under the carport like a faithful animal in its stall. Veils of mist trailed through the empty streets. It was almost six, the hour when she took some of her best pictures.

The bell began tolling in the North Church across town. It could almost be another century, another country. She would have liked that. Fiddling with the camera, she turned a corner and stopped with a gasp. The boy from the dream! All the horror returned, his face staring out at her from a wedge of shadow between houses. She could even make out a line of blood threading his cheekbone! Instinctively she raised the camera and pressed the shutter, not even looking through the range finder, then shot again as she zoomed in close.

She glanced at the image she'd captured. What? she thought, and laughed. It was a white cardboard box tied with red string atop a trash can.

Was that her problem, an overactive imagination? Or was she hallucinating? Was she mentally ill?

Spotting an orange tabby crossing the cobblestones near Mechanic Street, Dana dropped to the ground, shooting as she went, and among many wasted shots captured one of the cat, at cat level, its paw raised, silhouetted against the glistening cobbles. Thank God for digital, Dana thought. If an image didn't work, you could just delete it, or edit it on the computer. A different world from her dad's clunky 35-millimeter, although she used that, too.

She ducked through an alley, peering up at the sharpening shadows of one building against the bricks of another, and the sky beyond, crossed now by two gulls. If it weren't for the photography elective, Dana didn't know how she'd get through eleventh grade. She still might not. Finals were two weeks away. She wouldn't have said it to anyone, but in a strange way she didn't believe in school -- that world of grades and rules. It didn't seem real.

She made her way among the eighteenth-century houses near the quaintly spelled Strawbery Banke Museum and emerged on Court Street. A car honked and she jumped back to the curb. The town was getting itself in gear; she'd have

to hurry if she wanted to change, eat, and get Ben ready. Returning to her house (nothing quaint about that old white saltbox off Marcy Street), Dana grabbed the newspaper and took the front steps two at a time, her camera swinging from her neck. Her parents were already in the breakfast room. They looked up as she breezed through, flopping the Portsmouth Herald on the table as she passed.

"Thanks, Button," said her dad, throwing her a smile. He was leaning back in his chair, holding his coffee mug against his chest.

"Dana?" her mother called.

"What, Ma?" She paused on the steps.

"Are you all right?" Her quick green eyes held an emphasis her daughter was meant to get.

"Sure!" Dana said in her flip way, but she knew what her mother meant: Is that why you needed to go out this morning? Did you have those dreams again?

"Well," said Mrs. Landgrave, "I'll fix you an egg."


"Tell Ben his oatmeal is ready. Oh, and don't forget," her mother called after her, "you see the doctor this afternoon."

Dana burst into Ben's room to find her brother already sitting up, looking at his collection of early English coins. On the wall behind him were pictures of coats of arms, printed out from the Internet. Ben was heavily into heraldry these days, as well as being a computer whiz.

He gave her a sour look. "Thanks for the help," he said in his whispery voice. He'd managed to disconnect the tracheotomy tube -- the "trake" as he called it -- and plug the stopper in the small plastic opening in his neck so he could talk. The machine was only for nighttime, to regulate his breathing when he wasn't conscious. Soon he'd be weaned off it altogether. He was one lucky eleven-year-old, as his father often and irritatingly told him. If the fracture had been two vertebrae higher, he wouldn't be able to breathe on his own. Not to mention his other bodily functions.

Dana helped him into the wheelchair.

"Any good pictures?"

She swept the camera off her neck and went over to him. "Take a look."

Ben could raise his arms if he had to, but they were weak, so his sister held the camera and went through the shots.

He grunted.

"You don't like them?"

"Didn't say that." His voice was breathy and soft -- a sort of rush of bumpy air -- and most people had trouble understanding him, but Dana was an expert.

"I don't much either," she said. "The cat's all right."

"Yeah," Ben said. "I like the cat."

"Say," Dana said brightly, "we've got to get you going."

"Let's not."

She gave him a light punch on the shoulder and pushed him across the hall to the bathroom. "He's ready!" she sang out.

"Coming," her father called. He trudged up the staircase to take over. While Dana made Ben's bed, Tom Landgrave took care of his son's bathroom needs, attaching the catheter that would help him through the day without having to use the facilities at school. With Mrs. Landgrave's recent successes at the law firm, the family had been doing better financially. But they'd gone into debt for Ben's ventilator, not to mention the specialized computer and the van with the wheelchair lift -- and it would have been hard to add the cost of a nurse. Ben wouldn't have put up with one anyway.

Landgrave poked his head out of the bathroom. "He's ready for you, Button."

Dana came in with Ben's shirt as her father headed back down.

"This is going to be a good day," she said.

"Are you joking?" Ben watched himself in the mirror as she wet a comb and ran it through his hair.

"Aren't you going to see your friend Eric?"

"I guess."

"He's your research buddy."

"Not anymore."

Dana didn't know what to say. In the year since the accident, Ben had managed to keep a positive attitude, but some of his classmates began edging away. He couldn't afford to lose another friend. "Weren't you two working on a coat of arms or something?"

"He's gone out for softball."

That stopped her a minute. "Well, softball isn't forever. Maybe he could come over on weekends."


Handsome little guy, she thought, giving him a last glance in the mirror before backing the wheelchair into the hall.

Fifteen minutes later, with a warm croissant in her pocket, Dana pushed Ben down Marcy to Pleasant Street to wait for the Cheese. That's what everybody called the Special Ed bus, which was half the size of the regular school bus and looked from a distance like, well, a brick of Muenster cheese.

She hummed tunelessly as they waited.

"You're in a good mood," said Ben.

"We get the yearbook today."

Ben grunted.

"Can't wait to see the pictures."


"You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?" she said.

"Sure I do. All those clubs and things."

Dana was especially proud of her portrait of the Chess Club. Instead of lining the kids up in front of a curtain somewhere, she'd supplied them with crowns and bishops' miters. Then she'd brought them out in the parking lot, drawn a chessboard around them in chalk, and had them stand in squares representing a classic checkmate.

"Here we go," said Ben as the Cheese came around the corner and groaned to a stop. "Another day in paradise."

The wheelchair lift lowered and Dana helped him on. "Go get 'em."

He gave a little backward wave.

She watched the bus putter up the hill, then hitched her backpack higher on her shoulder and started along South Street, camera in hand.

Dana's good mood began to fade as soon as she reached the locker pod on the third floor and caught sight of Gianna Belkin, the yearbook's editor. Just the person, she reminded herself, approaching slowly, that she wanted to see. So why did Dana always flinch at the sight of her?

Gianna could be touchy at times, opinionated -- but Dana wasn't such a piece of cake to be around either. Nor did Dana have anything against large people. Her regular lunch partner was a supersized girl named Trish Roth, who was a hoot to be with. But something about the way Gianna rooted around in her locker was unsettling. It made Dana think of a young bear pawing at its prey.

Her Irish ancestry did give Gianna one quite beautiful feature, of which she was very proud: the long, straight waterfall of red hair that flowed halfway down her back. And she could be charming, with a wide slangy smile that made people want to like her, teachers especially. Dana had tried to like her too, but it didn't work out.

"Hey, Gianna."

The girl turned her head before making the effort to turn her entire body. "Hey, Landgrave. We got books."

"I was hoping."

"Think you'll like them." She gave Dana a wink.

"When can I see a copy?"

"The cartons are in the storeroom," she said. "Grill has the key."

Dana nodded. Miss Grill, in the office, had the keys to everything.

Gianna smiled. It was one of her charming smiles, but Dana found it vaguely alarming. "There are a couple of amusing shots of you in there."


"You'll see." Gianna turned back to her locker. "We should have books to give out by lunchtime."

"Great." Dana knew when she was being dismissed. "Super."

There was no way she could concentrate during Precalc. What amusing pictures would there be of her in the yearbook? More to the point, what pictures would there be by her?

At the end of third period, when the yearbooks were finally handed out, Dana leafed quickly through and found out. The school club pictures she had labored so hard over were not there! The Chess Club, looking disconsolate, was grouped at a table, three boys seated, two girls and a boy standing behind them.

She stared at the photo while going through the lunch line. Easy, she told herself. This isn't worth it. She spotted Gianna's red hair across the cafeteria and her anger spiked. She parked her tray by her friend Tricia, who was leafing through her own copy.

"Hey," said Trish in her fluty voice, "this is pretty good! 'Ja see the ones of you?"

"Be right back." Dana headed across the room.

"Gianna," she said, standing over her. She held the book open to the Chess Club. "You thought this was better than the picture I gave you?"

The girl frowned up at her. "You're interrupting, Landgrave."

"Yeah, I know." Dana glanced around the table -- class smarties all -- then back at Gianna.

"Your picture was unusable," said Gianna, turning back to her creamed chicken.

"Unusable? How?"

She laid down her fork. This was not the charming Gianna. "You couldn't see the faces. This is a yearbook. People want to see kids' faces. I had to go and reshoot most of the pictures you took."

"What?" Dana leafed through. There was the Photography Club. Dana had made a high-spirited portrait, with everyone holding up cameras and snapping pictures of the unseen photographer.

"You sure like pictures of tables," Dana said drily.

"I didn't have a lot of time to get creative."

"Hey, what could be more creative than having the Photography Club sitting around a table looking like a bunch of morticians?"

Gianna flashed a look so fierce that Dana dropped her eyes. The bearish impression was very strong. It had to do with Gianna's heavy nose and slightly open mouth, as if she'd just been chewing fresh meat. In fact, she was still chewing her creamed chicken.

"What is it with you, Landgrave? They were all holding their cameras in front of their faces. You couldn't see who they were!"

"At least they were alive." Dana counted two smirks from Gianna's table partners.

"Look. You didn't give us what we needed. End of story."

Dana caught herself. She was good at arguing, but sometimes she knew when to hold off. She turned away, her jaw clenched.

"Landgrave and her artsy-fartsy pictures," Gianna said, grinning at the others.

"What did you say?" Dana's heart was pumping.

The girl looked to the side. "You still here?"

"Still here."

"Then you don't have to ask."

Gianna wasn't prepared for the sudden shove Dana gave her, spilling Coke all over the table, onto Gianna's white pants and into the lap of the guy sitting next to her, who happened to be the captain of the debate team. He jumped up, cursing, as Dana strode off. She ignored her own lunch tray and the stunned look on Trish's face and continued out into the hall. Then out of the building.

She'd walked most of a block before she asked herself if she was skipping school. At the corner of Summit she stopped and opened the yearbook. The day had warmed into the seventies, and a breeze blew her curls.

There was one of the "amusing" pictures: Dana struggling to push Ben in his wheelchair up the incline of Daniel Street against an icy wind. Their expressions were not happy. Her brother didn't even go to this school. The picture would embarrass him even more than it embarrassed her.

Then came the biggest shock. She found two pictures of her own, out of the dozens she'd submitted. They were dramatic action shots of the Clipper soccer team on the field, and each had been given a quarter page. But they were different than she remembered. They'd been massaged by a computer so that a forest of cheering fans appeared in the background where no crowd had been. In small print under each picture was the photo credit: Gianna Belkin.

Dana found it hard to get her breath. She tore the pages out and slowly crumpled them. Mechanically she started walking. She turned left on Junkins and crossed the Mill Pond, a tidewater marsh favored by gulls and cormorants. Today a snowy egret stood on one leg, like a waiter trying to keep his uniform clean.

Dana watched it a long time. It watched her watching.

But even as she stood there surging with anger, a part of her remained detached, realizing that after all she was here at midday, free from school, with the simple sun overhead. She might dislike Gianna Belkin, but it wasn't real, not the way her dreams were real. In the world of high school there were no visions of a bloody child entombed in the dark.

Dana frisbeed the yearbook far out over the pond, scaring the bird into flight.

Copyright © 2007 by Roderick Townley


Excerpted from The Red Thread by Roderick Townley Copyright © 2007 by Roderick Townley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Roderick Townley's first book about Sylvie, The Great Good Thing, was a Top-Ten Book Sense Pick, praised by Kirkus Reviews as "utterly winning...a book beloved from the first page." Its sequel, Into the Labyrinth, was hailed by the New York Times as "a hopping fine read." The present volume completes the Sylvie cycle.

Mr. Townley has also published the novel Sky, described by VOYA as "one hell of a book," as well as volumes of poetry, nonfiction, and literary criticism. He has two children, Jesse and Grace, and is married to author Wyatt Townley.

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The Red Thread: A Novel in Three Incarnations 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
queenb4ever More than 1 year ago
In the begining you think it will be a good book, but as you continue the writting becomes confusing and the author leaves whole stories unfinished.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so simple and so good. I want to read something that I would want to read for awhile and when I read it I wanted to keep reading it untill I was finish. It was so good. I loved it as a bookworm that what I look for!!!!!! Great job!