Susan Hill is the author of “The Woman in Black”, and so I expected some very creepy ghost stories. With “The Small Hand” she delivers beautifully. A man, lost while driving to a client’s house, accidentally comes across a deserted house and garden in the English countryside and he feels drawn to it; while there, he experiences a small, childlike hand grasping his own- except there is no child there. Most people would want no more to do with the premises at this point, but the man- Adam Snow- delves into the history of the property with the aid of his client’s wife. While she does this, though, he finds that the invisible child has followed him- unusual for a ghost as they seem to be tied to a property. And the child keeps trying to pull him into very dangerous situations. Who is this child, and why has he attached himself to Adam? A discover by the client’s wife gives him a clue not just to who the child is, but to his own past. The ending was a great surprise to me; it was not what I was expecting. A very good, creepy story.
“Dolly”, on the other hand, left me cold, and not in the good, scary way. Cousins Edward and Leonora are sent to spend a summer at their Aunt Kestral’s house in the English countryside. Kestral has no children and has no experience dealing with them; the only other person in the house is her housekeeper Mrs. Mullen, who actively dislikes children. The cousins are pretty much on their own and it soon becomes apparent that Leonora is a budding sociopath, just like her mother. When Aunt Kestral, aided by Edward, attempts to give a nice birthday present to Leonora it’s not the right doll and she rejects it, smashing on the stone floor. That action is to have consequences forty years down the road.
Evil inanimate object stories can be very scary, and dolls can creepy just sitting still. There are eerie moments- rustling sounds and crying in the night- and Hill is the master of atmosphere. But somehow the story just didn’t hang together. It’s more a story of “Well, that’s truly unfortunate” than horror.
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