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A Gothic Tale to Make Your Skin Crawl
on 20 August 2012
David Morris, a book valuer for a London auction house, lives a quiet and orderly life - or at least he does until he travels to Belmont Hall in Somerset to catalogue and value the library of the recently deceased Lord Buff-Orpington. At Belmont Hall, David spends hours immersed in his work in the library and in his spare time he walks in the lovely woods surrounding the house. Whilst he is out walking one day, David meets Professor Hunt, a seemingly eccentric and enigmatic man who lives in a cottage nearby, and when David calls at Hunt's cottage later, expecting a cordial welcome, he is surprised to be more or less rebuffed by the professor. As David turns to leave, he hears a terrifying and blood-curdling scream coming from one of the upper rooms of the cottage and, unsatisfied by the professor's explanation for the scream, he returns to the cottage later when the professor is not there. It is then that David meets Isabel, the screaming woman, and discovers the professor's rather diabolical secret. I can't say more for fear of spoiling the story, but I don't think I would giving too much away by saying there is something very much the matter with Isabel.
At one point later on in the story, Isabel asks David if she makes his skin crawl and he replies in the negative - well, I have to be honest and say that the poor woman certainly made my skin crawl - and I do mean that literally. However, that aside, after reading the synopsis of this novel on the Amazon page, I was looking forward to reading the book and I found the initial few chapters interesting and absorbing. It was enjoyable to read about the walks David takes in the woods, where Peter Benson richly depicts the English countryside, and the author also uses some amusing turns of phrase, especially when he describes how David's mother killed herself accidentally while polishing the house, and how the cats at Belmont Hall lie in wait for David, with their cruel eyes staring as if they were planning murder, but were just waiting for the time and the opportunity. It was also interesting, and quite poignant, to read about David's difficult relationship with his clergyman father, but once the book moved to Isabel, my enjoyment abated.
It could be that this is a little masterpiece of Victorian-style gothic horror, possibly tongue-in-cheek, and I, being rather squeamish, am not the right audience for it - and maybe my squeamishness meant that I missed a significant underlying message; however, I can only be honest and say that although this book was well-written and suspenseful, after the first few chapters, there were parts to this story that I really didn't enjoy. Peter Benson certainly appears to be a good writer and there is much to admire in his writing, I just wish he had chosen to a different subject to write about. I would be very interested to know what other readers thought of this book and I shall be revisiting this page periodically to see how other reviewers have rated it.