Tag Archives: Neil Spring

The Ghost Hunters – Neil Spring

As a younger reader one of the sorts of books I would most commonly take out from the library would be collections of real life tales of the supernatural. Ghosts, monsters, spontaneous human combustion etc all fascinated me. Years on I am still really interested in the paranormal and ghostly goings on to the point of having spent a few nights in some haunted locations both in the UK and abroad – not something I do every weekend mind, though actually I would quite like to. Anyway, one of my favourite tales as a youngster, and subsequently since, has been of Borley Rectory which many have said was the most haunted house in all of Britain until it burnt down in 1939. Neil Spring’s debut novel ‘The Ghost Hunters’ focuses on some of the facts of the case to make a story of one of its most famous investigators, Harry Price.

9781780879758

Quercus Books, 2013, paperback, fiction, 522 pages, bought by myself for myself

On a January evening of 1926 Sarah Grey is dragged by her mother Frances to witness the infamous Harry Price as he tests the powers of a spiritualist medium at 16 Queensbury Place. It is a night that causes a stir from spiritualists none other than Arthur Conan Doyle as the audience witness Harry debunking this medium in front of everyone. Some people are disappointed, some shocked and appalled, Sarah herself is intrigued despite herself.  So when after meeting Harry Price he offers her a job she accepts, much to the consternation of her mother, friends and even initially herself, and becomes his secretary and medium testing and ghost hunting assistant.

Eventually this leads them to the mystery of the Borley Rectory. A house that has become famous amongst the British public after Vernon Wall writes about it. It is a building seemingly teeming with activity; bells ring by themselves, writing appears on the wall, pebbles and small objects fly across rooms and in the grounds there has often been seen a spectral carriage and horses along with a nun, The Dark Woman of Borley, who many believe has left a curse on the place. As they investigate Sarah is made to question what she believes could be real and what might be supernatural, what could be a hoax and who can be trusted, even Harry Price himself.

Recollections of the past sixteen months at Price’s side flicked through my mind, a montage of uncanny memories: the sun glaring on us at the Colosseum in Rome; damp, frigid mornings on the banks of Loch Ness; the teenage girl we encountered in Berlin who made knives and forks stick to her flesh as magnets grip metal. I doubted anyone in London had experienced a more thrilling, more adventurous or more peculiar year. There was no one more mysterious than Harry Price.

I have to say that I don’t think I have read a book, and this is almost 550 pages, so quickly in quite some time. Part of this is because I am so fascinated by Borley, and indeed Harry Price, and ghosts and also because Neil Spring writes a really gripping yarn which I became completely lost in and fascinated as the twists and turns, and spooky goings on, compelled me further and further into a world of the haunted and the hoaxers.

Spring does some great things with this novel. Firstly there is the way that he mixes the facts in with the fiction. As ‘The Ghost Hunters’ goes one and Sarah tells her tale we are treated to historical footnotes including which books or newspapers that quotes are taken from, cleverly not by Neil Spring but by Dr Robert Caxton who is reading Sarah’s tale, which of course makes it all the more believable and fascinating. He also does a really marvellous job of creating Harry Price who by all accounts was a very complex and rather shadowy character which Spring vividly evokes.

My only slight problems with the book were firstly that in some ways I wanted there to be less of it and in other ways I wanted there to be more of it and also in the relationship between Sarah and Harry. I won’t give away anything but I do want to explain why. Firstly as the book goes on Spring plays a brilliant game of twisting the perspective for the reader. We think that Harry wants to prove ghosts exist, then we don’t, then we do, then we don’t, then we do, etc. This makes for compelling reading yet occasionally I did think that maybe there was a twist too many and this started to make the whole book feel melodramatic. I like a lot of twists, an author has to gage when one twist is one too many because then it starts to stretch the world they have created to the point of snapping. In doing this, no spoilers, I began to be a bit annoyed with Sarah as she is clever and feisty at the start of the book but she seemed to become a bit passive.

Borley Rectory

I would have forsaken some of these twists to have had more details of the other investigations that Sarah writes of with Harry Price. Part of this is because I just wanted more, part of it was because focusing only on Borley we occasionally have lots going on for weeks then a year or two of nothing which we gloss over which means in a way we miss out on Sarah and Harry’s more mundane times which would focus on their relationship. This of course leads me to the second slight quibble I had with the book as I never believed the relationship to the extent we need to for the story to come to its conclusion, which will make sense when you have read it, I didn’t by it especially not in the circumstances it initially happens. I shall say no more though for fear of ruining anything, but it troubled me a little and broke the spell slightly.

The pepper pot, which stood on the table before us, was trembling. I had never seen anything so peculiar. And as if this were not enough to startle us, a glass of white wine that had been poured for Price just minutes earlier turned an inky black.

However there was so much that I really like about this book I forgave it these two things. The atmosphere is brilliantly created, the twists and turns keep coming, the historical elements of the times are really interestingly explored, it is often brilliantly chilling and it has a great sense of mystery and adventure to it. Also Spring clearly loves this subject and the enthusiasm for it is infectious. I had the feeling that Spring might have been the other kid who took out the real life ghost tales books which meant I had to take them back or couldn’t get a copy of. I don’t know much about Spring but I don’t think he was borrowing books from Marlborough library in Wiltshire when I was. Wouldn’t it be strange if he was, spooky indeed.

I would clearly highly recommend ‘The Ghost Hunters’ if you want a brilliantly dark and thrilling tale to read during the dark autumn evenings then this will be perfect. I would also recommend it if you like historical novels as this is a tale seeped in history, and facts, and shows a very different side of what was going on in London and its surrounding areas between the wars, with an unusual and enjoyable twist. I am rather hoping that we might get some more of the adventures that Sarah eludes she and Harry went on in the future as I am sure I would find them as entertaining and fascinating as this one.

Who else has read ‘The Ghost Hunters’ and what did you make of it? Do you know of any other true life tales of the supernatural that have been turned into brilliant books of fiction? If anyone knows of any novels about Winchester Mystery House then I would be delighted, it is another of my favourite spooky places. Oh and any non-fiction recommendations of books about ghosts would be most welcome, though the bibliography in ‘The Ghost Hunters’ has given me much to hunt down.

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Filed under Neil Spring, Quercus Publishing, Review

What Makes a Great Ghost Story?

I do love a good ghost story, though I have to admit I don’t read enough of them. What better time of the year, well here in the UK, is there to read them? No, not just because of the obvious fact it is Halloween today (Happy Halloween). It is autumn, my favourite season of the year as the nights are drawing in and there is a certain chill in the air. Delightful.

Of course today is Halloween and whether you celebrate it or not you simply cannot miss the ghosts, witches, monsters and gargoyles in your local shops (and no I don’t mean the other punters). Naturally for a bookish sort this will lead to thinking about supernatural reads. Or even to Ghost Huntersthe not so bookish as I mentioned the other day that it seemed the supernatural spirit (see what I did there) took over The Beard and two new spooky tales came home from the super(natural)market. I am on fire with puns today, like a witch on a stake. I am currently devouring ‘The Ghost Hunters’ by Neil Spring, all about the infamous Borley Rectory, and its very good. I am most impressed at how in such a long book he keeps the spooky suspense going as I normally like a shorter sharper shock for a ghostly tale. Which of course leads us to today’s (first, there will be another later when it goes darker) post as I was wondering what makes a truly great ghost story?

You see for me ghost stories are a tricky bunch. I am much more of a ‘chills and suspense’ kind of reader than I am a ‘blood and guts and gore’ kind of reader. As I mentioned above I tend to like a sharper ghostly tale, short stories in the main or novella’s maximum, as I find that prolonged tension doesn’t really work as well. For me. I also find ghostly tales set in modern times just don’t work. You can all too easily whip out your mobile phone or some gizmo and the fear vanishes, a good Victorian ghostly tale tends to tick all my boxes. (I actually threw a gauntlet down once that modern settings for a ghost story don’t work and guess what James Dawson was inspired to prove me wrong, this was confirmed from his own mouth!)

So to investigate what I think makes the perfect ghostly tale, whilst also using Neil Spring as a good example of a longer tale, I picked four titles from my newly restructured shelves that I thought I would dip into over this Halloween and autumn too…

Ghostly Tales

Alfred Hitchcock loved a good spooky/horror story and this collection is of some of his favourite ‘Stories Not For The Nervous’. This appeals to me immensely as I love being made to feel nervous in fiction (not in real life, in real life nerves destroy me) and I think these twenty tales and three novelettes which are included will work wonders. Next up is a selection of ‘Ghost Stories’ chosen by Susan Hill (who to me is Queen of the Ghostly Tale) which features my favourite Mr Wilkie Collins and more surprisingly, to me at least, Elizabeth Bowen and Edith Wharton. ‘The Conan Doyle Stories’ are one of my most prized possessions in the world. My Great Uncle Derrick would memorise these and tell them to me when I was very young on walking holidays, ten miles a day roughly, and Gran always said she would desperately try to keep up with us so she didn’t miss the endings. I haven’t read these for ages and should. Finally a renowned author of all things horror (and quite weird), yet new to me, H. P. Lovecraft. I have no idea if I will love these or not but it will be fun finding out.

So before I head off and start reading these dark delights, and hopefully scaring myself silly, I wondered what it was that makes the perfect ghostly tale for you all and what ghost stories you would most recommend?

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Incoming (And Possibly Outgoing)…

It seems that I have rather belatedly cottoned onto the idea of a proper spring clean, just the two months late eh? It has all come about when after coming back from London I was rather strictly told that I better bloody had really ought to think about the amount of books that are in the house. Despite all those bookshelves that Gran bought me last Christmas, along with several storage boxes I don’t technically count, the space was running out. The tops of the shelves themselves, radiator covers and chests of drawers – pretty much anything that could house books has been. The words ‘sizing down’ reared their ugly heads, I hope they were aimed at my books anyway.

Book SortingStrangely a day after this I was very sick with flu, it must have been the shock. Though whilst being sickly I came up with an amazing idea, how about swapping some of the shelves around? This would then mean I would almost double my shelf space logistically (I won’t bore you with how) I forgot that it would also then mean a proper full on spring/autumn clean. If it was to save the books though, what did it matter? Only weirdly in moving shelves I started to move books and notice some that I wondered why I had/didn’t fancy reading anymore/was sent unsolicited and thought I might try at some point but haven’t a few years on. I thought really it was a bit selfish to keep them when the library/friends/neighbours may want them so I started sorting… and it got quite addictive. As you can see I am still in the process.

This of course means there will be space for some more books. I am no fool. This is good as I have had some treats in during the last week and I thought I might share them with you.

Incoming BooksFirst up some random treats have arrived in the last week. The only ones here I was expecting was Tom Sharpe’s ‘Riotous Assembly’ which is the book group read for next weekend and which I should really get a wriggle on and read frankly. Gran always used to tell me that I should read them as she thought the Wilt books were absolutely hilarious. I just remember them for having boobs on some of the covers. At last I am getting round to him, though really a little too late sorry Gran! The other two were the Natasha Solomons, I am a fan, and also the Suzanne Berne. I am wondering if I should read Suzanne’s Orange/Women’s Prize winning book ‘A Crime in the Neighbourhood’ first though. What do you think?

AutumnalNext up were some suitably autumnal books. I seem to have ignored the fact that autumn is here when normally I am celebrating this on the blog as it means I can dust of some Victorian novels, get stuck into some darker crime novels, ghostly tales and revel in the dark nights. Well I think all four of these will be just the ticket. Gavin of GavReads has raved about Sarah Pinborough for quite a while and so I thought with theses retellings of fairytales ‘Poison’ (Snow White) and ‘Beauty’ (Beauty and the Beast) I am in for a treat or two. I need to get ‘Charm’ (Cinderella) to make the set complete. ‘Marina’ was Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s debut novel before ‘Shadow of the Wind’ (which I think I need to re-read – though maybe not with all the books I have yet to read, hmmm) and is the tale of a mysterious disappearance in Barcelona. I am not sure ‘Doctor Sleep’ really needs an introduction. Though it links to the next few books as I have been thinking of spooky reads for Halloween…

Halloween HorrorI have a small ritual of reading a ghost story on Halloween. I have been puzzling what to read this year and am now spoilt for choice with these four books. I managed to snag these copies of ‘The Rats’ and ‘Psycho’ in a random charity shop I fell into the other day. I have been meaning to read ‘The Rats’ since James Herbert sadly passed away earlier this year. I have only recently wanted to read ‘Psycho’ though having watched the movie ‘Hitchcock’ which suddenly made me want to read it instantly. I have also been greeted by treats only this very morning from the very person who said I should clear the bookshelves a bit. That naughty fellow called The Beard. Apparently when shopping today ‘The Ghost Hunters’ by Neil Spring and Adam Nevill’s ‘The House of Small Shadows’ sounded like they were very much my sort of books. I think that this may be the case; I am now spoilt for spooky stories over Halloween.

So what have you borrowed/bought/been given books wise lately? What books are high on your periphery? Any Halloween reads planned?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness