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I recently intercepted a few books from my friend that were on route to a charity shop and amongst them was this book - Naomi's Room written by Jonathon Aycliffe. I don't generally read stories about ghosts but the synopsis on the back cover intrigued me enough to give it a go.
The setting for the story are the leafy streets of Cambridge surrounding Trinity College and our main characters are Dr Charles Hillenbrand, his wife Laura and their 4 year old daughter Naomi whom they both adore.
Charles works at the university and his wife is an art historian. They are both very academic and their lives seem idyllic and privileged. They live in a large detached house that has been connected to the college since it had been built in the 19th century.
The story is narrated by Dr Charles Hillengrand himself. It is written in a clear, easy to read format but I warn you its contents are somewhat chilling as the story twists and turns. The story recalls the events of 20 years earlier. On a Christmas Eve in the early 1970's the family's life is turned upside down when whilst on a shopping trip to London with her father Naomi disappears in the crowds. A frantic search begins that spans the festive season until a few days later Naomi's dismembered body is found in an alleyway in Spitalfields. Devastated by their loss it is soon apparent that this is no ordinary case, there was no sexual assault on the girl but curiously her limbs had been removed.
Shortly after Naomi's death strange things start to happen in the house and as the events become more and more intense we wonder why, 20 years later our narrator is still in this same house, why he cannot just leave and we also wonder about Laura, his beautiful wife, who he occasionally refers to in the past tense.
When the inspector assigned to the case is found murdered in a church in Spitalfields it seems that the two deaths must be connected. Naomi's coat was found inside this same church, thought to have possibly been found by a vagrant and taken there. Was the inspector too close to discovering the truth?
Shortly before the inspectors death a photographer caller Dafyd Lewis who been assigned to the story by the press had made contact with Charles with some shocking discoveries. On many of the photographs he had taken whilst snooping around the house there are other people in the background. Two little girls appear frequently in the attic window and on another there is Naomi, apparently walking between her parents on a photo that was taken several days after she was murdered. Dafyd has several theories as to what is going on, but again as he is getting close to discovering too much he to meets a gruesome end.
Doctor Hillenbrand is convinced that the original family that had the house built must hold the key to the secrets of the house. To end the horrors he researches the past to discover everything that he can learn about another Doctor, Doctor John Liddley, his wife Sarah and their two daughters Caroline and Victoria. A privileged Victorian family whose lives seem to have more than just a few chilling similarities to his own.
Like all good books of this nature the story is quite complex. It shifts quickly from the present to the past of 20 years ago, but it also takes us back much further still, to the terraced Victorian streets of Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper stalked his victims.
The story is well researched and our author tells us frequently that everything he is writing is fact. He challenges us to check the same census returns of 1841 and 1851 that he has in his possession and to obtain specific medical journals of that period. Of course, the story is fictitious but it is the way that he manages to connect it to real factual events, like Jack the Ripper that make it plausible.
The end of the book builds to a rather bizarre climax and although I cannot tell you how it all ends I can say that I was left confused by several things. I have since spoken to my friend, who gave me the book and she has a completely different interpretation of the events. I therefore feel that I actually want to read it all again. That is the genius of this book.
At 208 pages long (in the paperback format) it is quite a short story and one that I whizzed through in a matter of days. Would I recommend it to others, of course I would!