Book Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert

1250316Title: The Secret of Crickley Hall
Author: James Herbert
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Horror
Age Group: Adult
Rating: 4,5 stars
Purchase: Goodreads, Amazon

The Secret of Crickley Hall is a new take on the classic ghost story in the same way that his bestseller Once was a new take on the classic fairy tale. The Secret of Crickley Hall is set in a childrens home in a coastal town in England. Some of the children are persecuted by the people who run the home and have found places between the floors and walls of the home to avoid the adults. They can also spy, of course. One day there is a flash flood which sweeps through the town and the childrens home. All the children escape, except the kids in the walls and floors, who drown. They come back as ghosts and seek their revenge.

I love ghost stories. They’re my absolute favorite stories, so I’ve read a lot of them. I have to say that The Secret of Crickley Hall is one of the better ghost stories I’ve read. Next to The Woman in Black and The Shining, it’s one of my absolute favorites.

First of all, the setting, which is absolutely perfect. A small, quaint town, with a rather gruesome (but not too gruesome) history. In 1943, amidst World War II, more than forty people drowned when the rivers flooded. Eleven of them were orphans who resided in Crickley Hall, an ancient house built in ugly, grey stone, by no means a beautiful place. When The Caleighs move to Crickley Hall, they’re trying to get away from the events that tormented them back in London. Their youngest son, Cameron went missing, and there’s been no trace of him ever since. Gabe and Eve try to deal with it as well as they can, but losing a son is never easy. Eve tries to pull through for her daughters, teenage Loren and younger Callly, but her guilt for what happened to Cameron continues to haunt her.

The strength of this book is that a lot of it thrives on emotion. Crickley Hall is haunted, and we realize that soon enough, but more important is the feelings of the protagonists, their growing anxiety and fears. The haunting itself is subtle at first, but quickly expands, a little too quickly to really make me terrified, but it was done nicely all the same. The history behind the haunting is what intrigued me the most – what exactly happened that particular night? But I also loved The Caleighs, and I enjoyed being with them through their sorrows, hardships, and also newfound happiness.

The book isn’t perfect though, although it’s a great gothic horror story. The narrative sometimes derails in long paragraphs reading to nowhere, or switches point of view where it shouldn’t, moving on to different characters. I liked it when the author got into the head of the villain, but some perspectives were unnecessary and dragged on the story.

Like with my previous James Herbert novel, which was Ash, I couldn’t help but feel like the author deliberately made the story longer, using repetitive sentences and scenes, telling instead of showing, and sometimes even offering entire paragraphs of inner monologue. The Secret of Crickley Hall is a lot better than Ash though. Here we have an actual ghost story, ghosts with rules and boundaries, an ancient mystery to unlock and genuine characters with feelings and emotions. I was ready to stop reading Herbert alltogether, and only picked this one up because it was a very cheap book. After reading, I’m ready to give Herbert another try.

If you enjoy ghost stories, or paranormal mysteries, then you’re going to enjoy The Secret of Crickley Hall. It has it all, from an old, creepy mansion to a series of ghosts, some good, others plain evil, and a family trapped in the middle of mayhem.

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