What's better than a ghost story? Two ghost stories! And that's what Susan Hill gives us in The Small Hand and Dolly. I love the cover -the doll's eye is unsettling and just set the tone for what awaits the reader.
I've fallen in love with Hill's Simon Serrailler detective series, but it was only on looking at the author's website that I realized she was the author of The Woman in Black - a classic ghost tale that has been made into a stage play (opened in 1989 and is still running) as well as a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Hill writes the most delicious stories - atmospheric with slow building tension that increases with every page turned. And all accomplished without overt gore and violence. Just wonderfully wrought words.
In The Small Hand, a rare book seller is on a way to a client's home when he takes a wrong turn - and discovers an abandoned house. "I should have gone back then. I needed to be in London and I had already lost my way. Clearly the house was deserted and possibly derelict. I would not find anyone her to give me directions." But he explores a litter further and finds that the house once housed a spectacular garden. It is while standing in the ruins that "I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and take hold of it."
That wrong turn haunts him in more ways than one - he now feels compelled to throw himself into water, knowing that he will drown. And this in turn drives him back to house....
"What would I find? I did not know and I tried not to give my imagination any rein. I would obey the insistent, silent voice that told me I must go back and once there I would see. I would see."
Delicious! Read an excerpt of The Small Hand.
In Dolly, Edward revisits the home of his now deceased aunt. He spent a summer there as a child, along with his cousin Leonora, a spoiled girl subject to fits of anger. In the forty years following that summer, he never returned. Until now. In present day, in the empty house, he hears a sound that brings back memories from that summer....memories of Leonora's wish for a dolly and her anger when it wasn't the right one.
"The cupboard. It was something about the cupboard, something in it or that had happened beside it? I shook myself, and was about to close the cupboard door when I heard it - a very soft rustling, as if someone were stirring their hand about in crisp tissue paper, perhaps as they unpacked a parcel."
Dolly's tension builds as well, but in a different way. This time there's a more tangible scary thing - the inanimate doll. (I'm not a doll fan - they give me the creeps) You could even say this story dipped it's toe in the horror pool. Lots of foreshadowing leads the way to the final chapter. I was slightly disappointed with the ending of this story - I thought one character did not deserve their ending.
But with both stories, I enjoyed the slow build, the weaving of possibilities and the gothic ghost flavour.
Of the two, I preferred The Small Hand. But, both are perfect one sitting with a cup of tea before you head to bed reading. Who knows what your dreams will conjure up? Or what that rustling under the bed might really be......
You can find Susan Hill on Facebook and on Twitter.