Tuesday, 12 May 2020

A House of Ghosts by W C Ryan

William Ryan is an award-winning Irish writer, known for his Captain Korolev series set in 1930s Moscow. Writing as W C Ryan, his latest book, A House of Ghosts, mixes mystery with an element of the supernatural.

The novel is set in 1917, on a wild and rugged island off the Devon coast, where sits Blackwater Abbey, the baronial pile belonging to Lord Highmount, a munitions entrepreneur. The Abbey is so old it is well and truly haunted and having lost both of their sons in the war, the Highmounts bring together two mediums in the hope of communicating with the dead.

But that isn’t all that is going on at the Abbey. London’s Whitehall suspects someone has been leaking plans for a new torpedo designed at Highmount’s factory. Among the guests, Madame Feda and Count Orlov are suspicious because they are, well, foreign. Also tagging along is Rolleston Miller-White, who has gambling debts and is engaged to Lord Highmount’s daughter Evelyn, and then there’s Lady Highmount who is Austrian. The suspects being to assemble.

Crossing in heavy seas as storms set to lash the island is Kate Cartwright, a Whitehall dog’s-body also on the guest-list. She’s an old family friend of the Highmounts and conveniently also has the gift of seeing ghosts. Kate adds eyes and ears for Whitehall agent Captain Donovan, masquerading as a valet, and the two make an uneasy alliance as they wait for the spy to make their move.

A House of Ghosts is a witty, action-packed yarn, filled with a varied cast of house-party guests and servants, reminiscent of Agatha Christie, but updated for twenty-first century tastes. There’s lots of snappy dialogue between Kate and Donovan, who are a brilliant odd couple: Donovan the stony-faced man of action; Kate, both intelligent and genteel, but set apart from her class because of her ‘special’ talent.

We are reminded of the popularity of spiritualism at a time when so many families were losing their sons to the carnage of World War One. And the Abbey is packed with ghosts who frequently find the antics of the living amusing. If you’re after a spine-tingling thrill, A House of Ghosts might not be the book for you, but there’s plenty of fun nonetheless. I whizzed through the novel enjoying every page.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: A House of Ghosts

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