“One murky November evening after a satisfying meal in their Fleet Street lodgings, a conversation between four medical students takes a curious turn and Hugh is initiated into a dark secret. In the cellar of their narrow lodgings in Printer’s Devil Court and a little used mortuary in a subterranean annex of the hospital, they have begun to interfere with death itself, in shadowy experiments beyond the realms of medical ethics. They call on Hugh to witness an event both extraordinary and terrifying. Years later, Hugh has occasion to return to his student digs and the familiar surroundings resurrect peculiar and unpleasant memories of these unnatural events, the true horror of which only slowly becomes apparent.” (goodreads.com)
Tomorrow is Halloween! The time for all things spooky and scary; crazy costumes and sugar-highs; and just a general good time (if you’re into that stuff). I’m not a huge celebrator of Halloween myself, mostly because celebrating it usually involves a lot of effort and I just don’t have it in me most of the time. But I did think it was the perfect day to post a review of a book I read a while ago, Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill. I picked this book up for a measly $5, so I was pretty chuffed about that. In hindsight the price tag should have been a warning sign, because despite all my hopes for this book to be super scary and suspenseful, it just wasn’t.
This isn’t the first of Susan Hill’s ghost stories that I’ve read, and despite my disappointment in it, it won’t be the last. A couple of years ago I read The Woman in Black, and I had this to say about it:
“It’s not every day that you read a ghost story that actually gives you chills. Occasionally I found myself breathing quite quickly and my pulse was racing, I wanted to cover my face with blankets at many points – it was that suspenseful.” (Me, In This Post Here)
The film adaptation of this book also scared the pants off me (that doesn’t have anything to do with much, other than to let you know you should watch that movie).
So I guess I went into Printer’s Devil Court with a slightly higher level of expectation than I should have and, as these things usually go, the book didn’t quite meet my expectations.
It wasn’t bad by any means. It was actually a really great story and I do really like Susan Hill’s writing – she’s really good at first person narratives. The “interference with death itself” mentioned in the blurb is a little Frankensteinian but not as sciencey (although there is some science involved), and I think it had the potential to be amazing. Unfortunately it’s never really allowed to be chilling.
I think perhaps the reason for this is that there’s not enough of the supernatural, and when it is there it doesn’t have much of an impact. There’s a ghost, hanging around a graveyard while looking eerie; she doesn’t really do much else. As ghosts and mysteries go, she’s very passive and I think the narrator could have lived without bothering himself with her – she didn’t really present any danger to him. This is very unlike in The Woman in Black, in which the ghost is almost an active character and her very absence from certain scenes induces suspense, because, you know, she might appear at any second and scare the life out of you. But then, she might not.
If you’re really into horror, give this one a miss because it’ll probably just make you laugh instead. As I said, it’s not the last Susan Hill ghost story I’ll read, but I’ll definitely be going into the next one with lower expectations.