My RIP Challenge reading continues this month with a couple of books, one more successful than the other, set in haunted houses.
A House of Ghosts by WC Ryan
WC Ryan’s A House of Ghosts is an entertaining hybrid of Agatha Christie style locked room mystery and gothic haunted house thriller.
Set in 1917, Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast is home to Lord Highmount. Highmount has organised a weekend spiritualist gathering, ostensibly to attempt to contact his two sons, who have been lost in the First World War. Highmount is of sufficient import that the Secret Intelligence Service sends a Captain Donovan to protect him, but why also send crack codebreaker Kate Cartwright along with him. Kate was once engaged to one of Highmount’s missing sons and another ex-fiancée is among the party at the weekend retreat.
Add in two spiritualists, Count Orlov and Madame Feda, plus a spell of bad weather to keep everyone on the island and there will be no surprise to hear that a dead body turns up before you can say whodunit.
Ryan delivers atmosphere and intrigue in spades, through a series of hidden tunnels, dramatic séances and previously buried war secrets. Told in short, sharp chapters, the story barrels along, narrated from different the points of view of a handful of key characters.
There is even a spot of romance, to lighten the ghostly load. Ryan marries the espionage and the supernatural aspects of his story with aplomb and ties up his story with a satisfying and believable conclusion that thankfully, does not rely on the spirit world.
Modern day themes of grief, post-traumatic stress and guilt are sensitively handled and don’t get in the way of the plot, which, although convoluted, is carefully designed.
The feather in Ryan’s cap here is his no-nonsense female lead, Kate Cartwright, a bright and composed creation. The book ends with a suggestion that Ryan might have more in store for his pleasing heroine. A House of Ghosts is a diverting mix of ghost story and murder mystery with an atmospheric and evocative setting.
A House of Ghosts, with its plucky heroine, labyrinthine house and island setting would make for a fabulous film
No 508 Hell House by Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson’s Hell House has a fantastic premise. A wealthy, dying man wants to know if ghosts actually exist, so pays $100,000 to a group of scientists and spiritualists, hiring them to spend a week in the infamous ‘Hell House’ of the title. Once the home of the evil and depraved Emeric Belasco, the mansion is now a bricked up fossil, famed for being rife with spirits.
Dr Barrett takes up the challenge. A scientist and a sceptic, he brings with him a host of scientific equipment, and his wife, in order to rid the house of its evil charges and prove that the haunting has at its heart, a scientific explanation. Beautiful spiritualist Florence Tanner has given up a life on the silver screen to spend her time contacting the dead and she is determined to connect with the spirits (literally) trapped within the mansions walls. Fisher, another spiritualist, is keeping his cards close to his chest. That’s because he has encountered Hell House before, and was the only one of that previous group to emerge alive.
The horrors here come thick and fast, starting with a good old rocking chair that rocks on its own and building to possessed cats, flying crockery, mummified bodies and, finally, unexplained deaths. Their wealthy benefactor dies halfway through, so the characters know that they will leave the house without any financial reward, but that is only if they manage to leave at all.
In typical 70s fashion, the female characters react to the hauntings by becoming overly sexual while the men do their bit to save the poor ladies from themselves. It is in this respect that Hell House really is of its time – when ideas of hidden perversion and deviance were rife.
Hell House is an entertaining, easy read but despite some subtle scares, there is little atmosphere here that really terrifies. Much of the horror is so overt that it becomes predictable and at times amusing, rather than frightening. However, it does explore that dichotomy between science and faith and the unerring human need to know what happens to us after death.
Read on: iBooks
Number Read: 239
Number Remaining: 507
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!