This book makes me want to spontaneously applaud. W.C. Ryan has managed to squeeze at least four genres into a single story. Somehow, he’s combined a spine-tingling supernatural tale with war-time espionage and romance, then plopped the entire plot into a country house murder mystery.
A House of Ghosts reminds me of the Agatha Christie mystery ‘And Then There Were None’. You already know the set up: bad weather means a mansion on a small, British island is cut off from the outside world. Unable to escape, the guests and staff must cope with a series of distressing events.
Here comes the twist: In A House of Ghosts, World War One is still raging and the guests have gathered for a séance. Wealthy Lord and Lady Highmount (whose money comes from arms manufacturing) have asked family and friends help them contact their sons’ spirits. Both young men are believed to have been killed while fighting the trenches.
Spies and Skulduggery
So far, the book sounds supernatural but this is primarily a spy story. It’s told from two perspectives: Donovan, an undercover army officer and Kate, a codebreaker.
Donovan is working for British intelligence and must discover which of the house-party guests is leaking Highmount’s weaponry designs to the Germans. Quick-thinking Kate offers him assistance and draws on her friendship with the family.
A House of Ghosts rattles through its themes, twists and turns at a fast pace. Chapters end on mini-cliff-hangers, to create a page-turner.
There are secret passages, dubious mediums, crypts, spies, lost relatives and an enormous number of ghosts. The plot’s implausible but providing you can suspend your disbelief it’s fun and easy-to-read.
If ghosts were wandering around I’d be sceptical or a quivering heap of terror but the characters are tougher than me. Most take supernatural happenings in their stride and a grisly murder (no, I’m not giving any more details!) is also dealt with in a fairly matter of fact manner.
As a result, this book is thrilling rather than chilling. I’d be able to read it at home alone on a dark winter’s night. The plot won’t keep me awake, worrying whether a bogeyman is hiding in my wardrobe.
In fact, I’d say that W.C. Ryan never fully explores the supernatural side of the story and the ghosts are a background element. It’s the references to soldiers’ experiences in the trenches and the ongoing harm caused by the war that has the most emotional impact.
I’m shallow enough to ignore the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” so A House of Ghost’s beautiful design helped set the scene for the story. I was lucky enough to get hold of the stunning hardback version. It arrives without a dust jacket and is a work of art, with gold lettering inlaid on a black background alongside a picture of the sinister, isolated mansion. This is a book that begs to be picked up.
Verdict: It took me a few pages to get into A House of Ghosts but once I did I was hooked. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a fun, fast-paced read with plenty of action and a few thoughtful moments.