The Woman in Black: Angel of Death by Martyn Waites

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The Woman in Black: Angel of Death by Martyn Waites

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Category: Paranormal
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Possibly not to the taste of all the millions who enjoyed the original short novel, but this World War Two-based frightener is just as enjoyable – and is in no way merely an advert for the film version.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Hammer
ISBN: 9780099588498

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It's here at last – the novel of the script of the sequel to the film of the book – that was always better as a stage-play. I'll maintain as long as you like that the play is the best way to witness The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, purely for the added extra of the final frisson – that you'll be carrying the story with you when you leave. Making sequels to the film, what with its departures from the source, certainly don't marry up with that – instead of the ghost going away into the audience it's instead as if the new characters are compelled into her domain – but either way, the dread inevitability of all the best ghost stories are on these pages.

I've not seen the film of the original, to my shame, so the house in this book is not my Eel Marsh House. (I don't know why there's even a basement, for one thing, in such a moist environment, but for the purposes of the plot there just has to be.) It's a run-down and incredibly damp and crumbly pile, and is being used by a school headmistress, her second-in-charge, and eight young children, all being evacuated from the horror of the Blitz – right into the claws of another horror. Chief among the people are the young teacher, Eve, and a lad called Edward, who has only just lost his mother to a bomb, and is struck dumb as a result.

And of course, the returning titular character – the mourning, grieving female figure, with some horrid kind of vengeance on her mind – and the very person that anyone trying to sell rocking chairs hates the most…

You do perhaps need to divorce yourselves a fair bit from the Susan Hill original, to get the full grasp of what's going on here. This is a new publisher, a new author, a new ethos, and intent… Like I said, it's the sequel not to her work but to Hammer's movie. So don't try and compare and contrast the style – here the brisk and very brief chapters (married with several instances of ungrammatical one-word sentences) are blazing our way through a very different kind of ghost story. But make no bones about it, it still works. There's perhaps a clunkiness in the way every adult here has to have a ghost of their own, but that will pass for character when we're hurtling through this story in a two-hour movie. The looming ghosts and spreading damp in the Eel Marsh House really add to the impending doom, and the balance of withholding the terror, and just getting on with the frights, is well-done.

The writing is never going to win a Booker, but that's not important – it will work and force you to sit with your back to the wall. It's not flawless – the tides on the causeway over to the House are very conveniently absent when people need to use it, and the 'you thought we'd stop at two??!!' ending is a bum note. Before then we have a very sensitive and sensible evocation of the horrors of the War, the return of a genre classic given a fresh-blood revivification, in both senses, and an albeit lower-brow but no less effective chiller. This is the first return to the best haunted house of the last thirty years, and it's a very welcome and enjoyable ride.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. We also have a review of The Old Religion by Martyn Waites.

This is another great title in the burgeoning Hammer library - and with books such as The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson elsewhere, we're smitten. But we're also wondering when people will latch on to other Susan Hill horrors, such as Dolly or The Man in the Picture.

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