Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spoooooky reading.

Every year I try to get some spooky reading in before Halloween. This year I chose The Haunted Hotel, a brief 1878 novel by Wilkie Collins.


Wilkie Collins virtually invented the detective novel in 1868 with The Moonstone, an excellent and complex story told from multiple point of view that revolves around a stolen Hindu gem. The Haunted Hotel is also a mystery story, but one with fantastical elements that make it a ghost story as well.

One of Collins's strengths as a writer is his distinct characterizations. The Haunted Hotel opens with two of them, briefly but strikingly described---a highly respected London doctor and the mysterious, dark woman who comes to see him, claiming she is doomed, although she appears to be healthy. This woman seems to draw everyone around her into this cloud of doom, especially her fiance. I hate to say more, except that all roads lead to a hotel in Venice---a haunted hotel.

Was it spooky? Hey, a Venetian Renaissance palace with dungeons in the basement? Of course! I would say it is mild by modern standards, but a modern reader who is not spooked by it shows a dearth of imagination. There is one scene of an apparition in the dead of night that, if it were to actually happen to me, particularly if in a room with no electric lights, I would probably freak out like every freakout I've ever had in my whole life all at once.

This was one of Collins's latter works, and at this stage in his life he was struggling with ill health and addiction. It shows in his story structure, I think. Potent plot elements are introduced and fade away; key characters just go off somewhere; some things about it that are not supernatural still don't make sense. The Moonstone was much longer and yet was tightly plotted and riveting---this book is rather sloppy. But for mood and character, it gets an A for AAAH!

I would recommend The Haunted Hotel for Halloween, but if you want to start at the top with Collins, start with The Moonstone. It's not spooky per se, but it has a smart detective, a cursed diamond, sleepwalking, thievery, mysterious foreigners, a butler, drugs, and disguises, and it is an excellent book.
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