The Caleigh family has had a rough year. After their son, five year old Cameron, disappeared, his mother Eve had taken a turn for the worse. Still holding on to the hope that he will come back one day, she tried to put on a brave face for the sake of the family, while her husband and their two daughters found their own way of dealing with the loss. Thinking that a change of scenery would be welcome for everybody, and especially being so close to the one year anniversary of Cameron’s disappearance, Gabe decided to rent a house for his family for a few months so he could be closer to work and they could relax in a new environment. That house was Crickley Hall.
It’s pouring down when they arrive, and the gloom of the huge house matches the weather. Even Chester, the family dog, can sense it, and he howls and tries to run outside at every opportunity. Strange sounds come from a cupboard, lights go on and off and a strong smell of soap is felt every now and then. There’s also a cellar door that won’t stay closed, dancing lights that appear out of nowhere, puddles of water on the floor in the middle of the night and the horrible sound of a stick hitting flesh.
As the story unfolds, the terrible history of the house is revealed. There was a group of children who lived there during the war, sent to the house by the authorities who thought the place would provide the perfect shelter against the bombing. Two guardians went with them, Augustus and Magda Cribben, and one night during a great flood, the children were found dead, Augustus disappeared and Magda never spoke again and was put in an asylum. What happened that night, how did the children die and what became of Augustus are questions that find their answers as the story goes on.
I have nothing but praise for this book. The story feels real, the characters are sympathetic and the whole atmosphere of the place is brilliantly conveyed. The story follows the main characters and we get to see their thoughts and actions while the omniscient narrator gives us insights into the mystery of Crickley Hall. What I particularly liked was how the author managed to give clues about what really happened on the night of the flood, while at the same time keeping the biggest surprise for the end. The dramatic past takes turns with the present events as the reader is also told how Cameron disappeared and what became of him, but without going into a lot of detail.
Eve really stood out for me as the strongest character in the book. Not only did she have to deal with the terrible burden of her son’s disappearance, but she also managed not to go crazy when all the dubious things started happening at Crickley Hall, and decided to stay and find out more about what happened to the children and possibly her missing son. There’s also Percy Judd, the house’s ancient caretaker who’s bound to the place by his own personal history, Gordon Pyke who has his own agenda, and Lili Peel, the young psychic who is drawn to Crickley Hall first out of curiosity, then out of a desire to help what she calls “the trapped souls of the children”.
At a little over 600 hundred pages, this was one of the best scary stories I have read. The story is straightforward and easy to follow, a small cast of characters and a dog (I am partial to dogs, I admit), the scary elements were all there and they made sense, and while there was an explanation for all at the end of the story, it still felt satisfyingly creepy and very well told. A modern day ghost story that proved to be a great nighttime read.
I bought this book about a year ago from a second hand bookstore and kept it on my shelf since then meaning to read it one day. That day arrived when I was reminded of Carl’s R.I.P. reading event , and it proved to be the perfect choice.
*Read in September, 2012