Despite his unworldliness Philip is perceptive enough to suspect his beloved cousin Ambrose, whom Philip resembles in looks and character, died suspiciously in Florence, Italy. When he meets the woman who may be responsible, he is set to hate her and seek revenge but instead falls obsessively in love with her, for she is unlike the few women he knows and dislikes. Orphaned as a baby, Philip has never known a mother's love and is drawn to Rachel for her quiet and comforting maternal ways. Philip's emotions seem out of control at times, almost manic. He makes rash decisions without seeking counsel. His behavior, at 25, is more adolescent than adult; he is moody, highly emotional, demanding, and arrogant when it suits him or when he is crossed. Although it seems to him he has never asked for much, he has always had his way and received the deference of those who serve him. He appears to have no friends or interests other than his house. By not preventing Rachel's death, Philip will be haunted forever.
Rachel Coryn Sangalletti Ashley
Rachel is an enigmatic, accomplished woman of the world, a quiet, perceptive, and subtle seductress. After Ambrose's death, penniless Rachel sets herself up—invited, of course—in Ambrose's Cornwall house and charms her young cousin Philip into falling in love with her, as she caters to his emotional needs. She spends much time re-landscaping the garden and redecorating the house, spending large sums of money. Like Philip's all-consuming passion for Rachel is Rachel's all-consuming passion for money and is the reason Ambrose never signed his second will providing for her. He simply did not trust her. Philip's generous allowance is insufficient for her, and to gain access to larger sums she believes her only route to such a fortune is through marriage. Her pleasant company and quiet ways hide her base ambition and greed, not discernible to innocents like Philip and, earlier, to Ambrose. But whether she is a murderer is the central question of the story.
Ambrose is a rich English landowner, an educated and accomplished man. He adopted his orphaned cousin Philip and raised him in a home with no women, not even women servants. In his early 40s, he falls in love with Rachel, who charms him and with whom he is happy for a short time. When he falls ill, his letters reveal mistrust of Rachel and her adviser Rainaldi. Ambrose suspects they are having an affair and poisoning him, although doctors have claimed a brain tumor is responsible for his paranoia. Continually suspicious of Rachel, whether with good cause or from illness, he has made no provision for her in his will.