Time for one more review before the RIP challenge ends!
Having read so many of Wilkie Collins’ books and loving them all, I’m starting to worry now whenever I pick up one that I haven’t read yet, in case that’s going to be the one that disappoints me. Luckily it wasn’t this one! This collection published by Wordsworth Editions includes the novella The Haunted Hotel and eight other short stories, all with a ghostly, spooky or supernatural theme.
Part ghost story and part gothic mystery, The Haunted Hotel begins in London but soon moves to Venice, an atmospheric setting complete with dark canals and ancient palaces. At the heart of the story is the mysterious Countess Narona, who marries Lord Montbarry after he breaks off his engagement to Agnes Lockwood. When Montbarry dies in Venice soon after insuring his life for ten thousand pounds, rumours abound that the Countess may have had something to do with his death.
While I enjoyed The Haunted Hotel, I wouldn’t class it among Collins’ best work and the shortness of the story means the characters aren’t as well developed. I did love the second half of the story in which the palace where Montbarry died is converted into a hotel. There’s a very creepy sequence of events where each member of the Montbarry family who stays in the hotel feels a ghostly influence that manifests itself in a different way to each person.
You can buy The Haunted Hotel on its own, but I recommend looking for this edition because the additional short stories are well worth reading too. In every story, Collins gradually builds the suspense and draws the reader into the story. One of my favourites was Miss Jeromette and the Clergyman, a short ghost story in which the ghostly happenings are accompanied by mysterious clouds of white fog. I loved the way even though the story was quite predictable, it was still a pageturner. The same can be said about Nine O’Clock, in which a man condemned to death during the French Revolution tells his friend about a family curse. We know almost from the beginning what will happen, but the story still manages to be suspenseful.
Another favourite was A Terribly Strange Bed, an Edgar Allan Poe-like tale which creates a feeling of claustrophobia and terror as the narrator finds himself trapped in a room with a very unusual bed. Another story on a similar theme is The Dead Hand, in which a man attempts to find a room at an inn for the night, but finds that everywhere is full. When he’s eventually offered a bed in a double room, he makes a surprising discovery about the stranger who’s occupying the other bed.
I also enjoyed the final story in the book, The Devil’s Spectacles, which is about a man who is given a pair of spectacles that allow him to see the true thoughts and feelings of anyone he looks at.
I don’t generally like reading short story collections straight through from beginning to end, but I didn’t have a problem with this book. There are only eight stories (plus The Haunted Hotel) and most of them are less than twenty pages long. This was a perfect book to read in the week before Halloween.