I was delighted to receive this book unexpectedly a few weeks ago. The picture doesn’t do the beautiful cover justice with its gold embossing. With the promise of ghosts, it seemed the perfect book to read when we were away for a week’s holiday in a converted Church in Perthshire over half-term. If you can’t sense the presence of spirits and lost souls in an old Church, then where can you?
A House of Ghosts takes place in 1917 on an island off the coast of Devon, in a stately home, Blackwater Abbey, which was once a monastery. Lord Highmount has invited a strange assortment of people to his home for a few days. There is a doctor, two mediums, members of the aristocracy, a butler, a shell shocked soldier and, as it turns out, government workers with an agenda to uncover some hidden secrets. Chief among the reasons for inviting these people is to hold a seance to try to communicate with his two sons who have died during The Great War.
So many families were touched by loss during WW1 and frequently with no firm evidence to say what had happened to their relatives, just the dreaded words ‘missing in action’. I can understand why so many people were desperate to believe they could contact their loved ones. It was interesting to read about the doctor’s theory that concussion and shell shock opens the mind to spirits of the dead. I’m not sure if this was a theory circulating at the time but can understand why people would believe it.
When the weather closes in effectively trapping everyone on the island and phone lines not working, this quickly became a closed room type of mystery. With mysterious happenings, secret passageways around the house, possible contact with the spirit world, and eventually a death, it is a murder mystery with a difference. The style and atmosphere of the book put me in mind of an Agatha Christie book but with added ghosts. I half expected Inspector Poirot to pop up!
With red herrings, misdirection, twists and revelations, this book is a perfect read for this spooky time of year with darker nights as the clocks are about to change and Halloween just around the corner.
My thanks to the publishers Bonnier Zaffre for my copy of the book. It is available now in hardback and e-book and should be available from your usual book retailer. You can order a copy online here: A House of Ghosts
From the back of the book
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 . . .
An unrelentingly gripping mystery packed with twists and turns, A House of Ghosts is the perfect chilling read this winter.
About the author
W. C. Ryan is also known as William Ryan, author of The Constant Soldier and the Korolev series of historical crime novels. His books have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the CWA’s Steel, Historical and New Blood Daggers, the Irish Fiction Award and the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, as well as being published in 18 countries. William lives in London and teaches creative writing at City University.