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4.2 out of 5 stars258
4.2 out of 5 stars
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This book is an imaginative account of the haunting of Borley Rectory, apparently "the most haunted house in England", and its investigation by ghost hunter, showman, charlatan (make up your own mind which) Harry Price. Set between the 1920s and the 40s, it takes us to a world where the relatives of those who fell in the First World War are exploited by false(?) mediums. These are hunted down in turn by the indefatigable Price. But Price has a problem. He is being supported and his "laboratory" accommodated by the Spiritualist movement, whose pet mediums he keeps debunking. So it may seem very convenient when an opportunity arises to investigate a serious haunting. Might Price (who was a real person), and his assistant, Sarah Grey (who wasn't) encounter something much darker and much nastier than they expect?

Based on real events, the story is told, mainly, by Grey, in a dusty manuscript found years after the events it narrates. It has received lavish praise. But is it really any good? I don't like to have to dissent from the general positive tone of most reviews, but I had big problems with this story. I feel it's best seen as two different books, one rather mundane, the other more effective.

The first part, following what actually goes on at Borley, seemed rather plodding. Frankly, nothing much happens. Spring moves his characters to Borley and back, introduces a journalist, Vernon Wall (another real person) to inject some tension, and tries to animate a conflict between Wall, Price and Grey. It just didn't convince. For example, there is a scene where Wall leaves Borley for London and Grey apparently faces a choice - him or Price? That is referred back to repeatedly in the book and is apparently a key emotional episode to all three. But somehow the writing never matches up to the importance of the moment so through the rest of the book I simply became more and more puzzled as to why everyone behaved as they did.

It doesn't help that the writing is, in places, rather garbled. For example, consider this description of a haunting:

"...One night, Marianne found pebbles behind her pillow; another time, just outside the Blue Room, she was struck in her face by some unseen force only to be turned out of bed, three weeks later, three times in one night!"

Struck in her face by some unseen force - horrible. Turned out of bed three times in one night - ghastly. But there are three weeks between the two events, yet Spring has crammed them together as though one followed immediately on the other. This just reads as odd.

Spring has clearly carried out an admirable amount of research, which he often deploys with skill - but in other places, and this is one, it looks as though he's simply dumped the content of his notebooks into the story without much attempt to edit it. Another example of this is towards the end of the book, where there is confusion about who owns the Rectory then - we are told that in the 1940s the Rectory was about to be disposed of "by the Rector" so that Price had to act quickly with his investigations, then that (earlier) it had been sold to a Captain Gregson, who filed an insurance claim only to have it rejected. I realise this may seem picky, but glitches like these bring the reader (well, me) up sharp and make it hard to stay in the book.

Another problem is the numerous phrases ("video camera", "glamour modelling", "photo shoots", "State-of-the-art", "I like unconventional", "hijacked my thoughts", "the Rectory is in lockdown") which belong more in the 2000s than the 1920s or 30s. There are howlers such as "mitigated against" (for "militated") and - in a book that features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! - Sherlock Holmes's famous saying "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth" is misquoted as "when you have eliminated the improbable..." making it into a nonsense. All this is, I think, simply poor editing. It is a shame when an author is let down by stuff like that: the point of editing a book is to pick up things which the author, having read the text over and over, simply can't spot any longer.

For all these reasons, I found it very hard to keep going with this book through the first two thirds. I didn't believe the characters, I kept tripping over the writing, and not much happened.

I have to say the book does improve though as the story moves on, it becomes less an account of "bumps in the night" (flying bars of soap, heaving tables and the like) and turns into something more subtle and chilling. It is difficult to say more about what happens without giving away the plot, but on balance I think it's worth persevering through the first section for the sake of the ending and based on this book I'd judge that Spring is much better at writing fiction than fictionalising real events - the later plot developments are largely imagined and much less based on the "facts" of Borley (whatever they really are!) with less occasion for notebook-dumps. In fact I think if you took the last hundred pages or so of the book, rewrote it as a novella (the ideal length, perhaps, for this sort of ghost story) with a little context at the start, and proofread it drastically, you'd get a much better book.

That gives me a dilemma in rating the book. If I had to judge the first part on its own, I would award it no more than two stars. For the ending, I'd give four. So overall - three stars.

Neil Spring is a promising author. I hope he writes more, hopefully out-and-out fiction, and that in future his books are better edited.
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In 1977 Dr Robert Caxton is given a portfolio of documents by John Wesley, the retiring curator of a collection of phenomenological objects. The documents narrate the story told by Sarah Grey. In 1926 Sarah Grey, who lost her father at the end of the Great War, finds herself visiting a spiritualist meeting with her mother, who for some reason of her own seems to be looking to get some sign from her departed husband. There she meets Harry Price, an investigator into spiritualist and psychic happenings. Shortly after, she is offered a job as Price’s assistant and takes it. By 1929, Sarah is relishing her role and the opportunities offered in it; but the remembrance of the letter she read on her first day regarding the haunting of Borley Rectory remains with her.

Much of the narrative of this book is focused around Borley Rectory; as the front cover of the book advises us the MOST HAUNTED HOUSE in England. Unfortunately, the hauntedness of this house was not in the least frightening, spooky, thrilling, worrying, scary, chilling or indeed even mildly startling. Things go bump in the night, misty figures scud across the lawn … That, coupled with rather clunky writing means that this book really fails in instilling in the reader any sense of suspense or tension. The narrative in the book takes place over several decades, and it’s hard to see why. The characters are rather flat and dull. Sadly, while this book has the germ of a great idea somewhere in it, overall the book has been over-sold and has vastly under-delivered. If you feel in an uncritical and ‘entertain me’ mood, then by all means read it. If you’re looking for something spooky, I’d recommend looking for something by Jonathan Aycliffe.
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on 19 December 2013
The Ghost Hunters

This book must be read!
Being mainly about Borley Rectory, my girlfriend brought me this awesome novel as she knew I was interested in Borley and all that happened there. I have done many hours research on the place, with five visits there, all of which were strange to say the least. But I am certain that the supernatural exists there, parallel to this world.
This book gives a solid account of what might have happened there between the 1920's and 1940's. With interesting characters, some of which are real, you are transformed into the heart of the action, which is a thrilling and sometimes scary read with superb description and depth.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can honestly say that it is the best novel I have ever read! I could not sleep, thinking about the story, wanting to read on, the girlfriend regretted buying it as she could not sleep for my bedside lamp being on all night!
I have read the other reviews and I know this one isnt very well written, without many long words and terrible grammar, but it is the truth. I have never done a review before, but I honestly loved this book, I HIGHLY recommend it.
Thanks for reading my first, I am no longer a review virgin. BUY THIS BOOK!!
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on 19 November 2013
The story of Borely Rectory is one I already knew quite well - as a child I had been obsessed with ghosts and the unexplained. I'm pretty sure I gave myself a few nightmares reading up on the events so I went into this book expecting to feel similar emotions again.

The narrative takes the structure the real Harry Price's fictional assistant's memoirs and the first three quarters of the book are almost historical fiction - there are footnotes, reprinted newspaper articles etc. This within itself is not a problem, but I was starting to feel I'd misunderstood (or possibly been mis-sold) the nature of the novel and it was a "horror" at all.

It took me a couple of weeks to struggle along to the last quarter of the book. It was an interesting enough of a story, but there wasn't really anything that kept me wanting to turn the page and the prose is little clumsy with some uneven pacing. There is one particular plot twist that was rather annoyingly handled. I had guessed the twist long before it was revealed (not that this was an issue), but the way the subject of the twist is referred to throughout the narrative was rather conspicuous in its inconspicuousness. No character asks the lead character the question the reader is asking every time this topic comes up.

This all might sound like I didn't enjoy the book. Which isn't the case. Last night I reached the last quarter of the book and I consumed that last quarter in one go. It certainly gave me the chills I was looking for when I selected this novel and I couldn't put it down until I'd reached the conclusion. Even then I couldn't turn the light out and had to read something else for a short while to take my mind off the final events.

With that in mind, I do think the story could have been made a little leaner or perhaps more tension added in earlier, but I am very pleased to have stuck with it.
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Based upon existing reviews I was expecting a lot from this book. Unfortunately, for me it failed to deliver. Basically, it's the story of true life ghost hunter, Harry Price, and his ridiculously compliant assistant Sarah Grey, 23 years his junior and, an ex-glamour model, of all things! Did `glamour' models exist in the 1920s? The answer is a resounding no! Clearly, though slightly later, there were `pin-up' girls, Betty Grable being the obvious example, and `French postcards', but `glamour modelling' as we know it today, didn't exist and if it did it certainly wouldn't have been the sort of `profession' entered into by a respectably brought up young woman.

Anyway, that aside, Harry Price's story is told from Sarah's viewpoint and she wastes no time in telling us how physically unattractive she thought he was, pointing out, among other decidedly unappealing features, his `yellow' teeth on more than one occasion. As the story proceeds we also find out, if the book is to be believed, what a truly obnoxious scoundrel the man was: not only a fraud regarding psychic phenomena but his whole life was based upon lies and, just to add the final nail to his character coffin, he was a Nazis sympathizer to boot! He also treated Sarah with often ill-disguised disdain and ranted and raved, almost to the point of physical violence, at anyone who questioned his ultimate authority. All of this and we are expected to believe that this young attractive and intelligent woman worshipped the ground upon which he walked.

It was this aspect of the story and her simpering attitude towards this monster that, for me, undermined any credibility the book might have had in revealing the true story of Harry Price and the true mystery of Borley Rectory. Why the author chose to invent, as his narrator an attractive much younger woman, is more of a mystery in itself than anything revealed within the pages of his debut novel.

The book opens promisingly as a first person account told by Dr Robert Caxton, a psychologist who has received a `curious letter' from a library curator of the University of London asking him to call and collect a mysterious manuscript, which turns out to be authored by Sarah Grey. It is only in the final chapter that we learn its significance for Caxton who provides an appropriate epilogue. Sandwiched between the opening and the epilogue, which are fine pieces of writing and worth at least 4 stars, is the `confession of Sara Grey', a much less assured piece of writing and worth, at the most, only 2. To me, the reason why she found Price so alluring and why she felt compelled to sacrifice so much for his benefit wasn't articulated clearly enough and, as a result, she never `rang true' and thus, unfortunately, neither did her story.

Some of the reviews of this book have been nauseatingly `gushing' which, in itself is more mystifying than anything revealed in its pages and makes one wonder if the people responsible have read any genuinely good ghost stories, two obvious examples being Susan Hill's, The Woman in Black; and Jonathan Ayecliffe's, The Matrix; both genuine spine-tinglers!
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This novel merges fact and fiction in an absorbing and evocative ghost story. Harry Price (1881-1948) was a real psychic researcher; a sceptic renowned for exposing fake spiritualists and best known for his investigation into Borley Rectory, called `the most haunted house in England." In this book, an academic is given a manuscript by Miss Sarah Grey, which tells the story of Price's investigation into Borley Rectory. Miss Grey was a young woman whose father had died in the first world war and who lived with her mother. Like many of her generation, her mother looked for answers in spiritualism, which flourished after the war, capitalising on grief. Sarah and her mother attend a meeting with Mr Price, after which she is fascinated by both him and his work. Before long, she has become his assistant and her life is changed forever.

This story takes place over some years, following Price's work looking at mediums and at the unfolding story of Borley Rectory and the visits made there by him and Sarah Grey, as well as journalist Vernon Wall and the changing inhabitants of the Rectory. Those of you who enjoy horror books may find this a little tame - but it is perfectly pitched for those who enjoy a more old fashioned ghost story. The characters are sympathetic, the events at the Rectory both creepy and sensational and neither those in the book, nor the readers, are sure what to believe. My main complaint with most ghost stories are the endings, which are often either tame or unbelievable, but the author manages to finish the book well and bring about a sense of completion. Overall, I found this very impressive - it would make a wonderful book for a reading group too, which much to discuss and is a perfect Halloween treat.
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on 10 January 2016
I would agree with other reviewers who have commented on the woefully anachronistic dialogue and language. I found this very outputting; when I read the word 'teenager' I winced. This was not a word in until around the fifties. So many other examples too which others have mentioned in their reviews.

The character of Sarah too felt unconvincing and not at all true to the time. The story itself dragged and was not the least bit creepy or atmospheric.

Not a great book. Very disappointing.
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on 29 May 2015
This book was a bit of a disappointment. I purchased it based on the raving reviews I had read in here, describing it as "chilling", "spooky" and "English gothic at its best". And now I feel... well, "trompée".

Those of you expecting a ghost story, choose a different book. This will only scare you if you're Scooby-Doo. But if you like soap operas, go for it! 'The Ghost Hunters' is definitely much more about the hunters (and other characters) than about the ghost. Which would be fine if the characters were not so flat, dull and irritating.

And as other reviewers have already mentioned, the sloppy editing doesn't help.
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on 24 October 2013
I would not normally read stories about ghosts, but this new novel impressed me. The author's passion for the paranormal and vivid writing style brought the eerie events at Borley Rectory to life in a way I had not anticipated. I think the book will appeal across age groups, and I have just ordered another copy as a present for my grandmother!
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on 3 December 2013
I love ghost stories and I thought they didn't write 'em like they used to in the Victorian and Edwardian heyday. Neil Spring has proved otherwise. Floorboard-creakingly spooky - and based on a true story. What a superb debut novel, and not a sign of inexperience on the author's part.

Spring has done a great job of fictionalising the real-life Ghost Hunter Harry Price - we see this arrogant mountebank through the eyes of his fictional secretary, the intelligent but gullible Sarah. Was Borley Rectory haunted or was it all a hoax? Spring leaves the reader guessing, and pretty damn scared along the way!

My only criticism of this great book is the use of footnotes in the text - out of place in a novel, really; the author's note should be the place for authorial comment and explanations. But otherwise, a rollicking good ghost story.
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