A massive happy publication day to William (W.C.) Ryan for his new book, A House of Ghosts. I’ve been eagerly awaiting William’s new book after reading the glorious The Constant Soldier. That novel made it into my top reads of 2016. How will the new book fare?
Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.
At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon Coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.
For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one…
There is so much to love about this novel!
Let’s start with the cover. The saying may be ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ but in this case you can. I think this is possibly the most beautiful cover I have ever seen. Top marks to Bonnier Zaffre for this. There’s a real sense of Golden Age and that’s not just because it’s gold on black. The drawing is exquisite and you can actually feel the ridges as you run your fingers over it. This attention to detail continues inside with a map of the island. There’s also pictures for each narrator at the beginning of their chapters – a mirror for Kate Cartwright, a lamp for Donovan and a chandelier for Lord and Lady Highmount.
But does the story match up to the cover? Absolutely. This is a mixture of thriller, whodunit and ghost story. In fact, the ghosts are part and parcel of the house – it’s more their home than anyone else’s – and we see them through Kate’s eyes. She has great respect for them so they don’t appear too scary. Although there may be one or two who are a bit more menacing.
The setting of an island cut off from the mainland because of a snow storm helps to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. There’s a killer loose on the island and with the telephone wire cut, no one is coming to rescue the guests.
A haunted house on an isolated island needs a great collection of characters and William Ryan hasn’t failed in this department. There’s a great selection from Lords and Ladies as well as the servants. The main narrators are Kate Cartwright and Donovan. Kate knows the house well as she’s been there before and is familiar with the ghostly residents. Donovan is almost a shadowy figure as he’s a spook in another sense. Together, they have to find the killer.
The book is set in 1917 and as well as being a thriller/whodunit/ghost story, it also looks at the terrible effects of WW1. There are soldiers who tell their stories of the trenches and the tunnels, as well as the families who are suffering tremendous loss. And it’s this tragedy that weaves the story together with a gold thread, adding another level and creating depth.
All in all, this is exactly the kind of book you want to read as the weather turns cooler and the nights draw longer. So clear some time. Get a cuppa, some biscuits and a blanket. Snuggle down and read. You won’t regret it.
And will A House of Ghosts make it into my top reads of 2018? Well, December isn’t that far away now is it… let’s just say it stands a very good chance of making it!
Click here to find out more about William Ryan and buy his books, including A House of Ghosts.
And if you want to hear William Ryan talk about A House of Ghosts, along with SJI Holiday talking about her new book, The Lingering, then there’s a perfect opportunity to come and hear them at my local library, West Barnes Library on Monday 29th October, 7.30-8.30 pm. Just to clarify, it’s not near Barnes! It’s in Motspur Park on the opposite side of the A3 from New Malden. Tickets are £1 and can be bought either by popping into the library, ringing them on 020 8274 5789 (closed on Wednesdays and Sundays) or by telling me and I’ll add you to the list. Seats are limited so please book ASAP.
W.C. (William) Ryan is the author of The Constant Soldier and the Korolev series of historical crime novels set in Russia. His books have been shortlisted for numerous awards including the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award, the CWA Historical Dagger and the Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award, and have been translated into over a dozen languages.