The Ghost It Was (1936) by Richard Hull

Gregory Spring-Benson has aspirations of being a journalist, and when he sees a badly written article about the apparently haunted Amberhurst Place, an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone presents itself. For Amberhurst is the home of Gregory’s uncle – his rich uncle – James Warrenton. And where there’s a rich uncle, there’s also a chance of an inheritance. And a chance of a story to give him his break in his new would-be career.

Once he arrives at Amberhurst, no sooner has he got his feet under the table, it becomes readily apparent that he is not the only member of the family with plans afoot. And soon, the ghost who apparently haunts the tower of the house appears. And on its second appearance, it seems to have taken a murderous attitude…

So, the re-emergence of Richard Hull’s back catalogue continues and after The Murder Of My Aunt, Murder Isn’t Easy and Keep It Quiet (and to a lesser extent, Excellent Intentions), I was looking forward to this one. So I was a little miffed when the publishers, who had asked me to review Murder Isn’t Easy and Keep It Quiet chose, for whatever reason, not to send me this one. Well, I say for whatever reason, but maybe they just know me too well.

First off, I may alone in my opinions on this one, so why not pop over to Pretty Sinister Books where that excellent reviewer and Golden Age aficionado John Norris heaped praise on it. Seriously, he knows what he’s talking about more than I do, so I’d listen to him. Ignore me.

But if you’re still inclined to listen to me, thank you, but I need to add a caveat. A decent chunk of it was read on a train journey yesterday, in a carriage that was also occupied by a group of middle-aged women out to celebrate a birthday who had apparently already started on the Prosecco. It did make it a little hard to concentrate as I pondered the question – if you are self-aware enough to apologise to the carriage in advance for spoiling their peace and quiet, how can you not be self-aware enough to shut the hell up? Anyway, made it hard to concentrate for a sizeable chunk.

Regardless, I didn’t get on with this one. While it starts strong while it focuses on Gregory, I found it dragged as the book moved from heir to heir. I thought most of the other characters fairly dull and interchangeable – one of those books where you don’t really care who did it because you have little invested in the characters.

When the murder occurs, it becomes apparent that this is Hull trying to “do” John Dickson Carr, but it’s not a style that he’s really comfortable with. The impossible plunge from the tower is unconvincing, as is the stabbing, and the final chapter, where Hull tries to be clever by not naming (although making clear) the name of the murderer, is irritating in the extreme – I had to read it twice, and I’m still not convinced I’m right about how the murder was committed. But it’s on a par with “Dark Of The Moon” rather than “The Judas Window”.

I suppose when Hull isn’t writing a classic-style mystery, it plays to his strengths, but here, for whatever reason, he tries to make his style fit a classic-mystery format. The result is functional but uninspiring. But what do I know? Read John’s review, read the book and then decide for yourself.

Availability: Now available in paperback and ebook. Thank you Agora Books.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: Any Outdoor Location oops, used that already. So At A Country House instead.

6 comments

  1. Stopped clocks perhaps but I agree with PD this time. It started well indeed, but then lost its way I thought. I gave up half way through, or a touch more. Hull often stretches material I find; here beyond its elastic limit.

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  2. “in a carriage that was also occupied by a group of middle-aged women out to celebrate a birthday who had apparently already started on the Prosecco.”
    Thanks for clarifying ! One wondered what you were referring to in Twitter.

    Like

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