The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert
Publisher: Tom Doherty, 633 pages
What it’s about: In The Secret of Crickley Hall, Gabe and Eve Caleigh along with daughters Loren and Cally have rented Crickley Hall while Gabe is working on an engineering project nearby. Gabe and Eve’s goal is to find some peace and quiet to mourn the disappearance of their child Cam and to prepare themselves to acknowledge Cam’s death, even though his body has never been found.
They do not find peace and quiet. Instead, the family is beset by frightening noises, dazzling lights, and, ultimately, ghostly apparitions. The history of the mansion is that Crickley Hall housed eleven orphans, a teacher, and two administrators during a momentous flood in 1943. All but one of the administrators reportedly perished in the flood, and Crickley Hall has been haunted ever since. Gabe refuses to believe in ghosts. Eve is more than willing to believe because that would mean there is a future for her beloved son Cam.
As Eve and Gabe and a reluctant psychic delve deeper into Crickley Hall’s past, they discover the story is more complicated than a simple, though tragic, drowning.
What I thought: It took me a while to engage with Eve and Gabe. I’m not sure why, since their plight–nothing worse than a dead child–should have evoked a sense of pathos in me from the start. Once the grizzled caretaker entered the scene (haven’t you noticed the grizzled caretaker seems to be a haunted house trope?), the characters took on a life of their own. I think it was the way Gabe and Eve kindly interacted with the elderly caretaker that first got me to genuinely like them all.
The Secret of Crickley Hall contains an evil spirit. I’m not a fan of malign ghosts (I like my ghosts wandering and troubled), and the author James Herbert tends to include bad ghosts in his novels. However, the evil one in The Secret of Crickley Hall is integral to the dark secret behind the haunting, so I understand his presence. For an extreme example of James Herbert’s bad spirits in action, read The Ghosts of Sleath. I actually stopped reading Herbert for a while after that. The Ghosts of Sleath was a much darker (translation: disturbing) sequel to Herbert’s novel Haunted, which I liked very much–both the book and the movie.
Overall, despite being turned off by evil (and there was depravity behind the secret, no question about that), I enjoyed The Secret of Crickley Hall much more than I liked The Ghosts of Sleath but not as much as Haunted. The last third of The Secret of Crickley Hall was quick-paced, and the ending was heart-stopping. I should know. I stayed up late to finish it.