When I checked this book out of my local library, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. The library doesn’t have a young adult section (it’s… small. Very, very small). So I genuinely didn’t know what style of book this would be. For the first time in a long time, I also refrained from checking any online reviews. So my mind was open and bias free.
I enjoyed this novel from the get-go. It doesn’t try to be more than what it is. It isn’t pretentious or over-complicated. It is, however, extremely readable. The writing style is fluid and smooth which makes each turn of the page a delight.
The novel firstly introduced Robert Caxton, a modern psychologist who is beckoned to The Harry Price Magical Library. Inside this dusty and gloomy space, he finds the journal of Sarah Grey, the assistant of Harry Price himself. The Victorian pair debunks and explores the paranormal happenings of their clients. Much like Sherlock and Watson, they use science and logic to pursue, above all else, the truth. There is a case that will test both Sarah and Harry to their limits. The most famous haunted house in England, Borley Rectory, will not be ignored and the path to revealing it’s secrets may just end in disaster.
It’s important to note that this is based on true events. Harry Price did exist, although Sarah Grey is fictional. Much as he is described in the book, Harry had a rampart desire to be noticed and to be in the spotlight. Whether his accounts of the Borley Rectory are true is wildly debated. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that it was faked by Price to garner more attention and to enjoy longevity in the spotlight but there are still a few believers that criticize this. Borley Rectory continues to inspire documentaries, novels and articles as the legends of its past have taken on a life of their own.
As a long-time fan of Sherlock Holmes, I have always loved a good detective story. It is fun to read of great adventures and see a puzzle unwind before your eyes. However, if you are looking for a horror novel, this wont be the book for you. A lot of the criticism I have read online seems to be due to this misunderstanding. There are times when the novel does grip you with suspense and these were exciting to read. But this isn’t a Stephen King novel and you wont be afraid to walk in dark hallways after putting it down. This is a character driven novel and most of the drama and suspense occurs due to relationship frictions or lies being uncovered.
One thing that drove me insane about this book is the way it would omit events and then mention them in dialogue moments. For example, when Sarah and Harry are investigating a separate case to Borley, there will be no mention of this until Sarah or Harry mention it in passing months after it occurred. I absolutely loathed this as often I wondered if I had missed huge sections of the novel, skimmed read the part they referred to or just completely forgotten the section. So I would often have to flick back through pages until I eventually realized that it was the author’s way of writing. I didn’t particularly enjoy this as I found that my immersion was lost each time this happened.
I also wish that more hints and clues could have been placed along the book as to the reality it proposed at the end. Without these being trickled throughout, the reader can only shrug and simply accept what is being written. There is no chance for speculation or to form your own opinion due to some ‘evidence’ not being shown at the time it was meant to occur. As mentioned in the paragraph above, this is jarring as a reader as I am used to being presented will all the information by the time the ending is being wrapped up.
In saying all this, I did really enjoy this novel. I found it surprising, exciting and interesting. By doing some research after, I discovered some interesting historical details that I never would have otherwise known. I am interested in reading more of Neil Spring’s book, although I hope that the criticisms I mention above aren’t present again.
Do you know of any haunted houses that are worth doing some reading on? If you know, please leave a comment so that my curiosity can be fed!