Book Chat: ‘A House of Ghosts’ by W. C. Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A House of Ghosts popped up in my inbox one day pitched by NetGalley as “And Then There Were None meets The Silent Companions“.  One of my favourite books of all time crossed with one of the best books I read in 2017? There was absolutely no way I could resist requesting it. My expectations were sky high when I first downloaded it so I suppose it’s probably a good thing that I left it a couple of months before I actually picked it up.

In some ways, I feel like it’s slightly unfair of me to burden those of you who are also big fans of either one of those books with my lofty expectation too because A House of Ghosts isn’t quite either of them. The conclusion that I’ve come to though is that actually in a way it is fair because it might nudge you to read this and then your life will be just a little bit better. Because while A House of Ghosts might well not be either of the novels that it seems to be being likened to, it is a really good one.

It’s set during World War I, on a remote island off the southern coast of England where Lord Highmount has convened a group of family and friends to host a seance to attempt to contact his two sons, who are believed to have died while serving on the Western Front.  After all of the guests have arrived, a storm cuts off the only route on and off the island, phone lines are tampered with (obviously) and events take a turn for the creepy.

The plot is one of those delightful tangles where everybody seems to have a solid motive for wanting at least one of the other residents of the abbey dead. I know that it’s a bit of cliche but as soon as the guests start feeling threatened, the secrets start tumbling out. Most of the story is told from the perspectives of Kate Cartwright and Captain Donovan, tasked with keeping an eye on Blackwater Abbey’s residents. I loved them both individually for different reasons and together they are perfection. Their relationship is so well written and them getting to know each other is the heartwarming light touch to what is an otherwise quite dark narrative.

Because not only is A House of Ghosts a cracking mystery, it also taps perfectly into the emotional effects of World War I, both on those that had served in the army and made it home and on those bearing the whole tragedy out at home.  The fraught emotions, the awful uncertainty of not knowing what happened to family members who were pronounced “missing, presumed dead” and the distrust of those in positions of power making decisions affecting thousands, including the story’s very own Lord Highmount, owner of an arms manufacturing empire. Murder alongside war might sound a bit much but the fine line is trodden sensitively.

Even with all of the mention of seances, I didn’t quite expect the novel to be as…otherworldly as it is. I don’t think that it’s a spoiler to say that the book doesn’t just hint at ghostly goings on, it properly commits to the paranormal. You might need to suspend your sense of disbelief fairly regularly but I didn’t find it too much, even if it was a little disorientating at first. Readers of ‘traditional’ crime fiction might not be a fan but if you’re ok with your hauntings being more literal, you’ll be just fine.

Overall: The writing is sharp and so wonderfully British feeling. The plot is well paced and A House of Ghosts is nothing if not a page turner. If you’re looking for a winter read that is just a little bit different, this one should be appearing on your wishlist.

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Date finished: 25 November 2018

Pictured edition published: by Zaffre on 04 October 2018

Source: Received from the published in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley

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