A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan

a house of ghosts

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.

A House of Ghosts features some wonderful characters, and I was immediately taken with Kate Cartwright and the somewhat enigmatic “Mr Donovan”.  Kate works as a codebreaker for Naval Intelligence, and has been invited to attend Blackwater Abbey and the séance being hosted by the Highmounts.  This puts her in a uniquely useful position to assist the head of the Intelligence Service and the aforementioned Donovan who is attending in the guise of a manservant to investigate a possible leak of information to the enemy.  While strangers at the outset, there is some fantastic chemistry between the two, and I thought that they worked well together throughout the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed A House of Ghosts, but I enjoyed it as a whodunnit / espionage tale in which there happen to be some ghosts, rather than as a haunted house novel.  This is entirely down to my own expectations and preferences, but the haunted house element didn’t entirely work for me.  The characters were just far too accepting of the presence of spirits, and became rather blasé about them.  Whilst this element of the tale was interesting and occasionally amusing, it didn’t have the creepiness I was hoping for.

As a whodunnit, however, this novel works brilliantly.  The small island location, which is cut off by bad weather once the guests have arrived is somewhat reminiscent of And Then There Were None.  And A House of Ghosts does read like an Agatha Christie – there are plenty of red herrings and multiple suspects, each equally plausible, and with their own motives and secrets that they’d rather remained hidden.  The plot does venture beyond a classic whodunnit though, combined as it is with the impacts of the First World War.  I liked that this became fully integral to the story rather than just providing a backdrop, and I thought that the impact of the War on everyday lives was brilliantly portrayed.

Whilst this novel wasn’t quite what I had expected, I did enjoy it, and I hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kate and Donovan, who make an excellent crime-fighting duo.

A House of Ghosts was published by Zaffre in October, and is available to buy at all the usual places.

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