Walter Craig was a clever scientist. As a young man he took away all the honours and prizes and some of his work was ground-breaking. But after he became seriously ill, his genius faded, and he needed the help of an assistant. When Silas Webb was appointed to the job he seemed the perfect choice, but he always preferred to work alone, even in secret. Then, quite suddenly, Webb disappeared.
Later, Craig opens a prestigious scientific journal and finds a paper, containing his own work, in detail, together with the significant results he had worked out. The research is his and his alone. But the author of the paper is Dr Silas Webb.
Craig determines that he will hunt Webb down and exact revenge.
Were it not for a terrifying twist of circumstance, he might have succeeded.
So begins the first of four short ghost stories by Susan Hill, something I have been looking forward to reading as the nights have drawn in and with Halloween not far away. I love a good spooky story and a good old fashioned scare and Hill has always been able to manage both where I am concerned with stories like The Small Hand and The Woman in Black.
Here, all the ingredients that make those stories so successful are there. The “old school” style of story telling, the simple language that lulls you into a false sense of security, the slowly building tension as you realise not all is what it seems – leaving you wanting to read on but worried that if you do, you’ll end up lying awake listening for things that go bump in the night.
Unfortunately, for me, these ingredients only came together perfectly in two of the stories – Alice Baker and The Front Room. Alice Baker was my favourite, with a young girl appearing one day in the typing pool who is good at her job but who makes all the other women feel just a little bit off, though they can’t explain why. It was such a good old fashioned ghost story I was completely drawn in.
The Front Room was darker and more tragic with possibly a higher “chill” factor but I had already given my heart to the characters in Alice Baker and, because I read these back to back, wasn’t ready to let them go. Here, a Young family try to do the right thing by taking in an elderly relative with terrible consequences.
For the other two stories, The Travelling Bag and Boy Twenty-One there was nothing wrong with them other than they didn’t make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a must for ghost stories. With The Travelling Bag I felt I knew what was coming and was right. With Boy Twenty-One, I didn’t feel any danger. No one was in peril, another must for me for ghost stories.
So, overall a mixed bag (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), a book I liked but didn’t love. Sorry!
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.