Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Secret of Crickley Hall

by James Herbert
Published by Macmillan

One might think that by now we’d all be tired of the standard horror tropes--vampires, zombies, demons and the like. There’s a couple of these old horror standbys that James Herbert tackles in The Secret of Crickley Hall: ghosts and the haunted house. The novel’s 633 pages seem more like half of that because the story just keeps rolling, and Herbert definitely makes the reader willing to accept these things that might seem to be stale when handled by lesser authors.

This is a story about a family that has been having some difficult times. The Caleighs move into Crickley Hall, a mysterious place in a remote part of England, when Gabe has to do a temporary engineering job. His wife, Eve, hasn’t been the same since their son went missing during a trip to a local park. There are two daughters who move into the house with them, and it isn’t long before bad things start happening all around.

Scary sounds in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing of their own volition, even things that the family starts to think that they are seeing but just aren’t sure: Crickley Hall has all the problems one might expect from a haunted house. When the Caleighs go into town to a store they find out fairly quickly that no tenant has wanted to stay at the Hall for long. A little research shows that it was once a boarding house for orphans that was under the care of siblings Augustus and Magda Cribben. The history of Crickley Hall and the Cribbens unfolds at a rapid pace and soon offers plenty of explanation for the frightening events that surround the house many decades later. Clearly the Cribbens were in the wrong line of work and their treatment of the orphans would understandably create some restless spirits.

James Herbert creates a carefully orchestrated story in The Secret of Crickley Hall. By the time the reader reaches the end, Herbert’s onomatopoetic swish-thwack! is likely to instill more than just a twinge of fear. This is a long novel, and it is still easy to digest because there is plenty of space devoted to developing well-rounded characters. Everyone has a backstory and everyone has a purpose for being in the story, making for a satisfying read that has plenty of shocks and horrors along the way. I found myself paying attention to something I usually gloss over: every chapter has a title. Some chapters are titled after characters, some are just ominous words, but all of them are meaningful and worth taking a look at. All of the plot’s loose ends are tied up nicely by the story’s end; all that the reader has to do is sit back and enjoy the work of a horror author who clearly knows how to build a heart-racing and frightening tale.

An important thing to note: if anyone thinks this is a brand new book, that’s mostly untrue. It’s been readily available in the U.K. for five years but is just making its way to an American release this week.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Christopher Larochelle

Christopher Larochelle spends time reading comics so he can fill some digital space over at his blog all about them. The time is now post-college graduation and things are in a state of flux, but it's certain that there will always be books that need to be read and things that need to be written about. Visitors are always welcome over at www.clarocomics.blogspot.com.

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