‘What’s the point of taking your head off and walking through a wall?’ asked author Susan Hill in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. It is inexplicable phenomena at its most literal. And yet it is an observation that doesn’t stop Susan Hill being one of Britain’s greatest tellers of ghost stories.
You almost certainly know Susan Hill as the author of The Woman in Black. That novel was turned into a long running stage play in the West End, an ITV drama, a BBC radio play and, most recently, a film produced by Hammer studios in what was a spectacular comeback to the horror genre. Alas I have a confession. I had never actually read a Susan Hill book. Shame on me.
So in my pre-Halloween reading spree I downloaded another Amazon Kindle Single, a story by Susan Hill entitled Printer’s Devil Court. It turned out to be another supernatural treat.
Printer’s Devil Court is a gothic tale of resurrection that begins with a letter from a firm of solicitors. The recipient is told of a memoir, left to him by a Dr Hugh Meredith. This small book has been hand-sewn and bound by Dr Meredith himself and tells a very strange tale indeed.
It begins in Meredith’s first year as a junior doctor, sharing lodgings in Printer’s Devil Court, London, with three other trainee doctors; Rafe, Walter and James. Susan Hill never tells us the year in which this story takes place. That is left to our imagination. But the name of the street, the names of the characters, the formal speech, the autumnal season in which the story is set and the presence of a church and graveyard nearby, well, somehow that conjures up a feeling of the gothic, a romantic era in which stories of ghosts fit perfectly. It is clear from the very beginning that the author has a remarkable command of our imagination.
Rafe seems an untrustworthy man from the start and a late night conversation about death, told on a foggy night by a warm fire and with a glass of port to hand soon takes a macabre turn. The conversation is about the validity of Biblical miracles and in particular the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Meredith wonders why Rafe is so keen on the topic and Rafe offers to share more, warning, ‘Just remember that what you know you can never unknow.’
What follows is an experience that will haunt Meredith for the rest of his life. I will not spoil that experience for you except to say that if you enjoy stories like The Monkey’s Paw, The Body Snatchers or even H. P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator, then I think you will love this. Printer’s Devil Court is a classic ghost story in the same vein as The Woman in Black. Thoroughly enjoyable and probably destined to be turned into television, radio and other media very soon. I’m glad I read the book first and now realise that I have other ghostly treasures from Susan Hill to catch up on. And that is a cheering thought.