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Book Review

The Small Hand by Susan Hill.

"We stood for a time, which was out of time, held as closely together as the hand of a father and his child." When you read Susan Hill you know exactly what you're getting-a superb ghost story, atmospheric, full of terror and fear for the characters who are mysteriously involved in the occult. The truth unfolds slowly and the intrigue and suspense is expertly eked out before the final shocking revelations at the finale. The settings and actual places complement this remoteness and abandonment, a strong sense of isolation reminiscent of the great Hitchcock. And with Hill you can guarantee the expertise and fluidity of the style which makes for great reading. You just can't go wrong, can you? Adam Snow is an antiquarian bookseller with extremely rich clients in the UK wanting rare book collections such as first folios with contacts in the States and Europe so he is constantly travelling. One time, as he is leaving a client and heading back to his home in London, he takes a few wrong turns and ends up at The White House and gardens. In its heyday it had been regarded as a national treasure, visited by royalty and foreigners from far afield. Now it was abandoned and decaying. His curiosity got the better of him and he felt compelled to do some exploring although he perceived that he was an unwelcome intruder amidst a strange quietness, an unearthly silence, an inexplicable eeriness and what he simply experiences here, a young child holding his hand, will terrorise him for the remainder of his days. This is the place that becomes an obsession and he is hypnotically drawn to the place to discover the secret of the small hand. A stroke of luck enables him to purchase a First Folio of a works by Shakespeare for his wealthy client, Sir Edgar Merriman. Excitement all round. Discrete enquiries assure Adam that the edition is housed in a monastery in a remote area in France where the Resistance was active. A treacherous journey to Saint Matthieu des Etoiles, climbing high into mountainous regions with a storm raging, incessant rain, sulphurous looking skies and blue-white lightning. Some of the bends were coiled like snakes. Flashed indelibly on his mind was the image of a child dashing across the road during this storm. He braked hard thinking he had hit the child. When he got out of the car to see whether he had injured the child he found himself standing precariously on the edge of a precipice, almost losing his balance and falling to his death‌. He suffers panic attacks and night horrors where he imagines himself being sucked lifeless under the water. When he is near water of any kind he feels a strong force, a tremendous terrifying strength which he finds irresistible. "It was like a magnetic pull. It was there when I slept and when I woke, it was there at the back of my mind all day and it was there even within my dreams."

The monastery visit represents Adam's days of light before the darkness that plunges him into the depths of hell. He feels safe in this place of sanctity, protected by the prayers of the monks but he has to return to the real world and confront his demons. He contacts Hugo his brother when he returns to the UK and finds out about his brother's panic attacks. Hugo suffered madness as a result of something disturbing in his youth and had two years of treatment before appearing to have been successfully cured. Adam is worried it is a genetic condition. "There is sometimes the shadow of a shadow. My psyche was turned inside out and shaken." Adam's discovery of a photograph with Hugo and a boy when they were children links them to The White House and its tragic history. What is this connection? And what is the connection between the statue of a young boy playing with a dolphin and a golden ball with James Harrow? Who was James Harrow and more importantly, what happened to him? It's a long story but it will always haunt Adam: "My last carefree, guilt-free, blithe moment. Aren't there always these moments just before the blow falls that changes things forever?" And it did change things for ever. Tragically. The final confession wrecks Adam's peace of mind for ever. The debt has finally been paid but Adam remains guardian of a grisly secret which he must take to his grave and never ever disclose to a living soul! Read it if you dare. Publisher: Profile Books.

ISBN: 978-1846682407.

REVIEW it by Carol Naylor.

The small hand by susan hill book review feb 2014  
The small hand by susan hill book review feb 2014