Monday, October 7, 2019
'tis the season, part one: A House of Ghosts, by W.C. Ryan
Arcade Publishing, first North American edition, 2019
October reading is generally given over to the strange and the supernatural, so when I heard about A House of Ghosts, I picked it up and on the list it went.
It's winter, 1917, and a group of people are gathering at Blackwater Abbey at the time of the winter solstice. The house is on the "remote" Blackwater Island off the coast of Devon, and the guests of the owners, the Highmounts, will be there to try to contact the dead, hopefully their sons who died during the war. Two mediums will be in attendance, and the house is the perfect location for doing so, since it has a "reputation" for its ghostly inhabitants, "a mixed group, from several different centuries." Kate Cartwright is more than aware of their existence; she not only seems to have clairvoyant abilities, but has also actually seen these ghosts. Kate had prevously been invited to Blackwater Abbey along with her parents but had declined; her plans change however when she is given an assignment by the Intelligence Service -- she is to make her way to the island in the company of her ex-fiancé Captain Rolleston Miller-White, who in turn will be attended by his valet, an undercover Intelligence officer by the name of Donovan. It will be Donovan's job there to investigate the leak of some plans that had ended up in the hands of the Germans and to discover exactly whoever it was that had passed the classified information. Since the house is located on an island, the only way to and from there is by their hosts' boat, making it even more of a closed-circle type mystery; a storm soon traps everyone on the island, but who among them is it?
I ask you, how could anyone not enjoy a novel with a remote island setting, a storm that makes it impossible for anyone to leave, an old house where spirits roam freely, a mystery involving spies, a murder, and best of all the promise of a seance to bring forth even more spirits (I am HUGE fangirl of novels where there is a seance or two)? These are all elements that tick my mystery/supernatural-reading buttons, but I was left completely unfazed. By page 85 I was ready to scream because nothing had happened; by page 155 I was rejoicing that something had finally happened; even the dustjacket blurb promise that "soon one of their number will die" doesn't happen until over one hundred pages after that. Given the fact that blurbers for this book referred to it as a "chilling ghost story," "a multilayered, gothic masterpiece," or "unbearably creepy," I had high hopes, but I was seriously let down. Even the ending was a big what?? and believe it or not, I had a huge chunk of this thing figured out long before getting there. And let's not even go there with the ghosts that haunt Blackwater Abbey -- I don't even get why they were included. Trust me, traditional ghost stories over the ages are part of my reading bread and butter, and the blurber who said to "think Agatha Christie meets M.R. James" may get it right on the Christie end, this is definitely NOT M.R. James.
That's me again, the red fish swimming the wrong way against the tide, since I seem to be in the minority of people that didn't care for this book. Most readers are absolutely thrilled by this novel giving it very, very high ratings in the usual places; sadly I'm not one of them.