I’ve been going on a Susan-Hill-ghost-story splurge that began a few months ago with The Woman in Black (although I didn’t blog about). I followed that up with The Man in the Picture which was another quick, thrilling read. Her horror novels sends just the right amount of tingles up your spine and conjures the right atmosphere in the shortest of time frames because her three spooky novels are quite short.
In The Small Hand, antiquarian book dealer Adam Snow becomes lost after leaving a client’s house in the countryside. He comes across a deserted estate with the most marvellous overgrown garden and is unable to resist the urge to explore it. The house, Adam later learns, is called ‘The White House’ and it was once famous for its gardens. Adam wanders through the gardens in the twilight, he pauses to stare at the derelict house:
And as I stood I felt a small hand creep into my right one, as if a child had come up beside me in the dimness and taken hold of it. It felt cool and its fingers curled themselves trustingly into my palm and rested there, and the small thumb and forefinger tucked my own thumb between them. – p. 7
Adam is driven to find out all he can about The White House and the ghostly hand does not frighten him until it suddenly become malevolent, particularly around water such as ponds and lakes.
Now the small hand was tightening in mine and I felt the dreadful pull I had experienced before to throw myself forward into the water. I could not look at the child’s face, because I knew that I would be unable to refuse what he wanted. His expression was one of such longing and need that I could never hold out against him. – p. 78
As the mystery surrounding the identity of the boy and what had happened to him all those years ago to cause the sudden abandonment of the White House deepens, Adam becomes unsure if he is losing his mind, like his older brother once did, and have been imagining the events.
This is a terrific book to read in one sitting. I particularly loved the bookish elements thrown into the spooky mixture where Adam travels to an isolated monastery in France where there is a beautiful library housing a first edition of Shakespeare’s Folio.
1) Never wander around deserted and derelict mansions with overgrown gardens while lost in the countryside at dusk.
2) Never squeeze back a ghostly hand, no matter how small or seemingly innocent.