The Secret of Crickley Hall review

When home is not a haven…

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Author: James Herbert

Publisher: Macmillan

600 pages · £17.99

ISBN: 1-4050-0520-3

Rating: 3.5/5

From Roman playwright Plautus,
who wrote a proto-haunted house
story, to The Amityville Horror, the
spooked-up bricks-and-mortar tale has
a long tradition. It’s easy to see why it’s
become such a staple – home is where
we’re supposed to feel safe, after all.

So why is it something of a surprise
to find James Herbert writing an entry
in the genre? Surely this is typical
Herbert territory? Strangely, no. Think
Herbert and most of us think visceral
horror, all blood and guts. In contrast,
the haunted house horror is often about
an indistinct threat waiting to strike.

Despite his comments in last month’s
SFX that he doesn’t like to follow
convention, Herbert is well aware of
this. His Crickley Hall, a dull-looking
building near the North Devon coast, is
a place of threat and menace. Water
turns up on the stairs for no apparent
reason, the cellar door won’t close,
faces appear at its windows.

The apparitions, as new tenants
Gabe and Eve Caleigh gradually learn,
relate to a fl ood during World War II,
which led to the death of evacuees.
How did it happen? And what kind of
life did they lead at the Hall? What
secrets does the house hold? And why
won’t the dog settle?

It’s a dark theme echoed in the
personal sadness of Eve. The couple
have two daughters but (quite literally)
lost a son when Eve fell asleep for a few
minutes in the park.

It’s a downbeat theme for populist
fiction, but Crickley Hall never feels
overly gloomy. Slickly constructed
entertainment with serious undertones
and, most scarily, an evil presence that
goes swish-thwack in the night…

Jonathan Wright

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