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The Secret of Crickley Hall - James Herbert
Member Name: marandina
The Secret of Crickley Hall - James Herbert
Date: 08/02/07, updated on 08/02/07 (811 review reads)
Advantages: Beautifully written, becomes a real page-turner as you read on
Disadvantages: Graphic violence involving children
The Caleighs are a family in strife. Having lost their son, Cameron, to a possible abduction, they seek sanctuary in the wilds of North Devon, away from the scene of their recent misery in Central London. When Gabe Caleigh - an Anglophile American engineer - is offered a job based on a project in Hollow Bay, he rents an old house outside the village called Crickley Hall. Along with his daughters Cally and Loren as well as wife Eve together with their dog, Chester, the family adopt the shambling residence with an air of unspoken foreboding and when they start to they hear the sound of children running upstairs and a strange shuffling noise in the cellar, they soon realise that there is something strange and untold about Crickley Hall and its tragic past.
The biggest danger with Herbert’s latest book is of falling into cliché. What with haunted houses, ephemeral spirits and psychic mediums with skeletons in their recent past, all the ingredients are present for a run-of-the-mill ghost story that’s been done a million times before. There’s no doubting that there is a element of deja-vu around some of the elements at work in the book. There is often murky light at Crickley Hall, supplanted by an oppressive atmosphere and a constantly opening cellar door. There are storms, lightening, thunder and all to make it all very Addams Family at times although we do stop short of a macabre butler and Dickensian door bell.
I was surprised by the gentle build up and a bit taken aback that the author didn’t start with a grandstand opening and use the rest of the story as a progressive build up to the events that mark the building out as haunted, pulling together the sinister events from the wartime flood and assailing the reader with an even bigger finale. Still, he didn’t and, as a matter of fact, it didn’t make that much difference given the ever increasing pace and tension of the closing chapters which results in an explosive finale. Also on the debit side, the book is very long at 600 pages and the first few chapters are scene setters with no big, apocryphal set pieces. Maybe the asides involving the rough and tumble adventures of the kids at the local school are a bit a la Grange Hill although this does give a nice link to a great scene where the local bullies get their comeuppance in a nicely crafted sequence at a deserted Crickley Hall.
All of Herbert’s writing talents are showcased in this book. He draws his pen pictures of the characters astutely, bringing them alive for the reader and employs his trademark cliffhanger finishes to each chapter in an increasingly effective manner as the plot thickens. The writer knows how to crank the tension up and the related sub-plots of the catastrophic events of 1943 are carefully crafted for effect, interwoven with the sorrowful tales of Lili the medium and the unraveling of the circumstances surrounding Cam’s disappearance and possible abduction. It’s this last sub-plot that left a lump in my throat at the thought of a little boy being parted from his mother when she’d fallen asleep on a park bench due to overwork and the stress and angst it caused for the whole family, not knowing what happened to him all this time. James Herbert is a very skilful writer. Writing in the third person and from various points of view, he uses imaginative descriptions of Devon’s beautiful countryside, italicized flashbacks to bring the monstrous events of the past to life and paces the story so that it’s virtually impossible to put the book down from the half way point.
As ever, his monsters are graphic, their deeds truly horrific and one particular incident involving the arch villain of the piece and a little boy in his charge made me wince and may take the book beyond the pale for some. In fact, that whole monstrous entourage of villainous and completely deranged guardians supposedly caring for evacuated orphans is fantastically imagined and expertly executed. Quite where the author conjures up some of his unbridled horror from is anyone’s guess and that it frequently involves a threat to young children means that care should be taken by those choosing to read this particular effort. Just as his monsters seem real, the protagonists engender both empathy and sympathy from the reader in both the actions and thoughts as the story plays out. Gabe is the archetypal hero, Eve the ponderous mother suspended in limbo by the uncertainty of the fate of her son. Both daughters get their parts to play in their interactions with the locals whilst Percy the gardener provides the link with past.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Secret of Crickley Hall”. It’s well and truly in the horror/fantasy genre with the accent on horror and should only be read by adults given the graphic nature of some of the violence in the story. Chapters are mostly brief, often between six and a dozen pages and titled to give a hint as to what is to come. Fans of Herbert’s work will be pleased with this one and looking forward to his next tome already. I’d class myself as one of those waiting for the next installment in the Herbert horror franchise and will be making another purchase from Britain’s undoubted king of horror fiction.
Thanks for reading
Published by Macmillan www.panmacmillan.com
RRP: £17.99 Available at Amazon from £10.78. Paperback out from 4th May 2007
More info about James Herbert at http://www.james-herbert.co.uk
Summary: Overview of "The Secret of Crickley Hall"