Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Vintage Books, 288 pages, $15 (release date 9/24/13)

The one adjective I always think of when I read the Simon Serailler series by Susan Hill is atmospheric. Even though they are police procedurals, they retain the same quality that made Susan Hill's spooky The Woman in Black such a long-running, ghostly success in London's West End. Her works have a dark sense of brooding and hidden evil. Susan Hill knows how to make us clutch the blankets to our heads, peer into the darkness to see what secret will come slithering out, shock us with an unexpected turn of events.

The Small Hand and Dolly are two gothic ghost stories, with a very traditional British bent. Both are partially set in isolated country houses. Both horrors rely on past secrets that insist on rising to the surface. Both are satisfyingly and deliciously spooky.

In The Small Hand, Adam Snow is a dealer of antique books. While visiting a client, he becomes lost and accidentally stumbles upon an abandoned, derelict mansion, inappropriately called The White House. It was once famous for its gardens, now overgrown and choked with weeds. As Snow curiously inspects the grounds, he feels a small, cold hand grasping his. Of course, there's actually no one there. From that moment, Snow is periodically and inexplicably haunted by a sense of fear, dread, and anxiety. Later there's a wonderful scene set in an old and isolated monastery in France. 

Dolly was a slightly less captivating story for me, primarily because Edward Cayley, one of the main characters, is a chump and is taken advantage of by his egotistical cousin Leonora. It's hard to warm to him adequately as he sympathetically tries to help his cousin, first as a young child and later as an adult. As the disagreeable housekeeper says of him as a child, he was "too sweet-tongued to trust." As a child he was preternaturally polite, obedient, a real Milquetoast. As a young child, he is sentenced to spend a summer with his childless aunt and sociopathic cousin in a creaky, isolated old house in the marshes, Edward, despite signs to the contrary, insists on trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Hill does manage to raise the requisite goosebumps as Edward does the strangest things. 

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