Hoorah it’s the first ‘Sensation Sunday’, I have to admit that I was slightly worried that having not read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins or Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that my love for the ‘sensation novel’ might have passed, which would be slightly concerning as with The Sensation Season I have until just after Christmas to read a lot of sensation fiction. So I slightly warily opened the first few pages of ‘The Haunted Hotel’ it didn’t take long until I was completely immersed.
The Haunted Hotel opens in quite a typical ‘sensation novel’ fashion. Doctor Wybrow is about to go on his rounds when his servant announces a young lady has come needing to see him straight away. With other patients to see he tries to sneak out but is caught by the young woman who demands he sees her now as she fears she is going mad. From then she tells him the tale of her husband to be and the woman she usurped unintentionally from her fiancé Lord Montbarry, Agnes Lockwood, whom she recently met and had the fear of death put into her. Unable to help the woman she flea’s unhappily but something causes the Doctor to have her followed and he finds out she is Countess Narona who when he asks at the men’s club he discovers has a reputation of “being a person who produces a sensation wherever she goes, this noble lady is naturally made the subject of all sorts of scandalous reports” she is also, apparently, evil.
From then on we leave the Doctor behind and follow the story of Agnes Lockwood the jilted lover of Lord Montbarry whose maid’s husband who mysteriously goes missing working for Lord Montbarry and his new wife Countess Narona and her brother the Baron. Not long after Lord Montbarry dies of pneumonia in Venice though his family believe something suspicious has been going on as the Countess is now worth ten thousand pounds. Soon enough Agnes Lockwood and Countess Narona’s lives become entangled in a dark mystery.
I loved this book, I thought from start to end it was brilliant. I had never thought how sensation novels might have inspired today’s crime fiction as Wilkie Collins leaves you with a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter as the great plot driven crime novels of today do. In fact if I had to complain about the book in any way it’s the fact that you get very grumpy when you have to put it down to go to work and such evil things as what I really wanted to do was curl up and read it from cover to cover without stopping. When these novels where serialised in the late Victorian era I don’t know how people could wait for the next instalment. I wouldn’t have been able to as I was gripped and just completely became involved in the excellent plot, you do have to suspend your beliefs somewhat at coincidences but this is ‘sensation’ fiction after all, and the brilliant characters some who are wonderfully wicked.
I love books with ghosts, mystery, suspicion, dastardly characters, possible murder and foul play and shocks in them (get used to those words as I think they will be appearing a lot on this blog over the next few weeks) and this book has all of that in it and possibly more. I did wonder just how on earth Wilkie Collins could manage this in under 250 pages, and what’s more how does he do it for over another ten books? The first sensation novel in the Sensation Season was… well… sensational. I hope they all carry on like this.