Publisher: Jove Books, 338 pages
What it’s about: David Ash, a paranormal investigator for the Psychical Research Institute, has taken a case in rural England where he meets the siblings Simon, Christina, and Robert; and their aunt, Nanny Tess. They live in a decaying mansion full of mysterious noises and drafts and fires that disappear. To complicate matters, David is an alcoholic, latent psychic who is haunted by a past that includes the drowning death of his young sister. David insists ghosts are either natural phenomena or the result of charlatans, and makes it his mission to ferret out the truth and disprove the existence of ghosts. The Psychical Research Institute employs David for this reason. The Institute’s rationale is that if David can expose fakery, this will provide a basis to legitimize actual hauntings.
Once at the Edbrook mansion, David struggles to obtain proper equipment readings or explain sensations of crippling fear. Nanny Tess avoids him even though she summoned him. David is hindered by the tricks and half-truths of the brothers, and finds himself falling for the beautiful but enigmatic Christine. Meanwhile, he nightly follows a giggling young girl in white ankle socks and a translucent woman in white who leads him to a treacherous pond.
Back at the Institute, psychic Edith Phipp’s visions tell her all is not right at Edbrook. Just as her dreams escalate in intensity, David’s behavior becomes more erratic and his thoughts more troubled.
Gradually David will awaken to a truth he may not care to see.
What I thought: James Herbert is a renowned writer of the supernatural. Haunted is the first of a series featuring David Ash (don’t you love his evocative last name?) and Kate McCarrick. I read the second of the series, Ghosts of Sleath, and found it too macabre for my taste. However, in Haunted, the author does a wonderful job with setting and character to establish a dark and eerie tone, more atmospheric than the graphic horror scenes of the second David Ash book.
Edbrook is the perfect setting for this atmospheric novel. Bounded by ornate, 16th century gates and dominating the landscape, Edbrook is “imposing in its grayness” and “disconcerting in its bleakness” (36). Author Herbert knows how to ratchet up tension as when David touches a bed and reacts “as though his fingertips had dipped into icy liquid” (222). David’s trials of terror and exhaustion are rendered in believable scenes, compounded by his isolation in the dreary, remote countryside. And bonus of bonuses—there’s a hidden mausoleum. I’ve loved mausoleums ever since I used to race home from middle school to watch Dark Shadows.
Haunted was made into a movie in 1995 starring Aidan Quinn and Kate Beckinsale. This is one of those instances in which I enjoyed the movie slightly more than I enjoyed the book, partly because the book interrupted the plot to insert long flashbacks that I found somewhat disruptive. However, Herbert’s novel is a book that must be added to any aficionado’s comprehensive list. Haunted is to ghost fiction what The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye are to American literature.
For a ghost tale filled with dark foreboding and spine-tingling scenes, James Herbert’s novel, as well as the 1995 movie, will leave you feeling Haunted.