Considering that this book was originally published in 2006, it has not lost the ability to entertain and enthral. I first read it back then and enjoyed it immensely. While waiting for Herbert’s next book to find its way into my hands (The Ghosts of Sleuth) which is another David Ash story, I decided to re-read this tale of terror set in the Devon seaside.
I have been a huge James Herbert fan since his “pulp” days. Pulp meaning stories that scared and revolted, sometimes at the same time; Herbert’s speciality back then was delivering his horror with all the power of a solid right cross. Then while you were reeling from that first punch, he’d swiftly follow-up with an uppercut. As Stephen King put it in his 1981 analysis of horror Danse Macabre: “Herbert likes to grab the reader and scream in his or her face if he needs to…” Anyone reading his earlier works would agree.
The Rats, Domain, Lair, The Fog, The Dark, et al; all scared the crap out of me and made me a fan for life.
Herbert then started changing his style of horror. He started slyly mixing in sophisticated touches with an enviable élan. The first book (in my opinion) where he deviated ever so slightly from his standard formula was his first David Ash book Haunted. The scream in your face scares were still there, but the right-cross was delivered by a gloved fist. The bare-knuckle crunch was softened and the story benefited from it.
Magic Cottage followed this new formula and Herbert has never looked back. I will say that I do miss the old books with the almost overabundance of gore and the constant shattering of social taboos that was his speciality back then. But not enough to turn my back on an author that I rank right up there with the illustrious Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and Richard Laymon.
The Secret of Crickley Hall tells the story of the tragic Caliegh family. American Gabe Caliegh and his English wife Eve have lost their son. When an exhausted Eve took their son Cameron and sister Cally to a park in London, Eve fell asleep; when she woke up, Cally was screaming and Cam was gone. Gabe, Eve; their 12-year-old daughter Loren and Cally all go to the Devon seaside to a village called Harbour Bay to live in Crickley Hall for a year. A sort of “time-out” for the family while the anniversary of their missing son and brother grows nearer; unfortunately they could not have picked a worse place to have a break from the stress of their grief.
Crickley Hall was the centre of a WWII scandal that had been hushed up by the authorities. Eleven evacuee children drowned amid rumours of mistreatment by their strict “Christian” guardian and his sister. A dank, dark house that still reflects the pain and horror of those long ago victims; a place never occupied for very long because of its oppressive atmosphere; where Gabe and his family will end up fighting for their lives when the past makes its startling revelations known.
Like a fine wine, James Herbert doesn’t just get older, he gets better. He is still adept at delivering that one-two punch that will shake you and make you look uneasily over your shoulder while reading his prose. When Herbert was younger he was a Heavy Metal enthusiast and on every interview I ever saw him do, he wore the uniform of the Metal Rock fan; a black t-shirt, blue jeans and long hair. His books at that time could be said to be the literary equivalent of the Heavy Metal rock genre, hoarsely screaming horrific images through his writing. If that is the case, then he has learned to include the backdrop of symphonic and operatic arias which help his “rock” style of writing reach sublime heights of fear, terror and a creepy uneasiness.
If you haven’t read this book keep an eye out for it at book stalls and shops. It’s a damned good read and when the climax occurs, you’ll wipe your sweaty forehead and release a sigh of satisfied relief. The BBC did an adaptation of the book for television, which I have not seen, but as usual I would recommend reading the book first. A real 5 star read