- A House of Ghosts.
- W. C. Ryan.
- 432 pages.
- Ghosts / Historical Fiction / Thriller / Mystery.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.
At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.
For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
A House of Ghosts takes place in December 1917 against the devastating and destructive backdrop of the First World War. Lord and Lady Highmount have arranged for a house party to take place in their home of Blackwater Abbey on the island of Blackwater. Stricken by their grief over losing their two sons during the fighting, with the unusual history of the Abbey and the approaching winter solstice. The Highmount’s want to use the party, the two invited mediums and the rest of the attending guests in an attempt to contact the dead and hopefully communicate with the spirit’s of their two sons.
Blackwater is a fictional island located off the coast of Devon and Blackwater Abbey on the island is the setting for the story told in A House of Ghosts. Blackwater is an isolated and remote destination and Blackwater Abbey a mysterious and haunting setting that is brimming with history, is full of secrets and that thanks to the Highmount’s and their eclectic mix of guests an array of lies too. Due to a severe storm raging. With the wind howling, the sea churning and the waves crashing any travel from off the island is impossible and until the storm passes the guests are trapped at Blackwater.
Lord Highmount’s company (Highmount Industries) makes armaments and munitions for the war effort. Some of their secret weapons plans appear to have fallen into the hands of the enemy and there’s thought to be a spy at large leaking, passing on the information to the German’s. All of the guests have their own agenda for attending the party and some have fallen under suspicion of being the traitor. The house party is seen as the ideal opportunity to further investigate those individuals, gather information and unmask the spy.
The story is predominantly told from the alternating perspectives of Captain Robert Donovan and Kate Cartwright. Donovan is a hard man, a killer, damaged by the war, the things that he has seen and the things that he has done. Kate is resilient, determined and independent. Both are likeable and well-drawn characters. Donovan works for the Secret Intelligence Service and Kate is a codebreaker. Kate’s family are old friends of the Highmount’s and after initially turning down the invitation to the party. Kate accepts to aid in the investigation alongside Donovan who will be there undercover in the guise of Kate’s fiancé’s manservant. The chapters are short and they consistently move the story forward. Ryan writes in such a way that he vividly brings both his characters and his brooding, creepy and claustrophobic setting to life. Easily drawing you in, keeping you intrigued and maintaining a sense of tension throughout in a story that is darkly evocative.
The ending ties the story told in A House of Ghosts up rather nicely. But, should Ryan choose to revisit with his characters somewhere down the line then the door is left open for potential sequels. There’s also a slight dash of romance towards the end. Now, usually, romance has me running to the hills but, honestly, I didn’t mind it. As I mentioned, it’s only a smidgeon but it fits in with both the characters and the story. After the dark themes of grief, loss, trauma and the psychological impact on those who have been affected by the war (both those who have fought in it and the families who have lost loved ones to it) I felt that it was a nice way to end the book, a flickering candle flame, a light in the dark.
I have to be honest and say that A House of Ghosts wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. The title of the book isn’t a misnomer and Blackwater Abbey really is ‘a house of ghosts‘. I went into the book presuming that I’d get a standard haunted house style of story and what I actually got was something more. A wonderful blend of an atmospheric ghost story, a murder mystery and a suspenseful spy thriller all rolled into one.
Purchase A House of Ghosts.
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