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on October 5, 2006
James Herbert's latest book, The Secret of Crickley Hall, uses an old and established formula - an ageing, deserted Gothic house that has been left to decay because of some tragic event whose circumstances have been clouded by the passage of time. The villagers in the neighbourhood all have their own theories about what happened but no one really knows the truth. However, when a family - in this case the Caleighs's move in, they find the house has been haunted by these past events, and is inhabited by ghosts with 60 years of repressed anger to vent.

Even though this is an old, established formula, it is also a very good one. Most horror writers use it at some point in their writing careers. (Herbert has used it at least once before with Haunted.)

An old Gothic mansion is a great starting point for a ghost story, with wind and rain crashing against the windowpanes, and strange noises and visions that have either ghostly explanations or, for the more cynical in the story, more rational explanations, such as tricks of light, and wind rattling through the floorboards. (Cynics are always the idiots in these stories: in this book the Dad of the family, Gabe Caleigh, insists that nothing is wrong, and there are no such things as ghosts, while everyone else - even you, the reader - is yelling at him just to get the family into the car and drive away!) But that's what we love about these stories - the atmosphere, and the stupidity of the people being haunted. (Personally, if I saw ghostly spectres dancing around my house or if my child insisted she had a new set of friends to play with who I couldn't see, I would be out of there!)

James Herbert's new book is a refreshing visit back to this old formula and fails to disappoint. It builds atmosphere, while recounting the tragic circumstances surrounding the happenings in the house, leaving you, the reader, to figure out the truth behind the mystery of what actually happened to the characters. This book has all the elements a good horror novel should. (An array of suspicious villagers, a psychic and a few covered up murders.)

In sum, The Secret of Crickley Hall is a good read - a must for Halloween, when the wind and rain are pelting against the windowpanes, and the only sound you can hear is the wind rustling through the floorboards... ...
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on December 29, 2006
Out in Hollow Bay, a gloomy house (in fact, the entire neighborhood is pretty grim) is rented by a family who have recently suffered the tragedy of a missing son. But there's something wrong with this rental property. The dog hates the place. A cellar door won't stay shut. The tree swing has ideas of its own. Closets make an unearthly racket. Teeny disembodied footsteps are heard. And a naked man walks down the stairs with a wooden switch. Switch-thwack.

I'm a big fan of James Herbert and this is a departure from his usual fare. Its an old-fashioned (in a good way) ghost story. Complete with a 70-year-old caretaker who supplies the back story of this former "orphanage," the psychic who's afraid of readings, a spook hunter, and spectacularly stormy weather (Herbert's setup of atmos can't be beat).

There's some surprising twists and tragic turns (especially where the orphans and the lost son is concerned.) And unusual too, is the treatment of hauntings which are not grounded. (Ghosts following people . . . away from the place of the original haunting). I won't reveal anymore other than I gave it a 4 because the father, Gabe, took more than half the book to believe his house was haunted!! Engineers, what to do???

This is the perfect book to curl up in an armchair with your sharp-eyed dog in your lap. And better yet, if the branch of that birch or oak is banging on the glass panes of your window and and the rain and wind is beginning to sound like soft whispers . . . eek
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on November 14, 2007
This is my first James Herbert book, and if it's one of his worst I do apologize, but I very much doubt I'll be picking up another. I'm not sure what I was expecting - something more along the lines of Stephen King's work, perhaps - but anyway:

The first thing that struck me about 'The Secret of Crickley Hall' is that, for a so-called page-turner, Herbert's writing is unbelievably turgid and repetitive. There's too much pointless description, too much stilted and unrealistic dialogue, too much everything. At times I was left wondering if the author himself knew what on earth he was talking about.

As far as the plot goes, it's your average horror fare: a family and their dog moving into a creepy old house and resolving to stay there despite many bizarre happenings and lots of suspicious, meaningful looks from the local villagers. You know the score. The cast consists of your average horror stock characters with very little sparkle, all of them talking like automatons and at times behaving in an inhumanly dense fashion. It makes it hard to feel any fear or sympathy for them as the book drags on and on.

Overall this could have been a decent book - not a great or original one, but a decent one - if not for Herbert's amateurish, inelegant prose. Any suspense or scare factor that the book might have had can't really be appreciated when you're dozing off in mid-sentence.

Not recommended, as much as I tried to enjoy it. How Herbert can be a bestseller with writing like this is quite beyond me.
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on October 17, 2011
Cameron Caleigh went missing almost exactly one year ago. It's been a year of hoping, beyond all hope, that he will be found alive. Now, Gabe and his family have left their London home for Crickley Hall, in the quiet village of Hollow Bay, where, they hope to begin recovering from their loss. Eve immediately dislikes the ugly and foreboding house and insists that they leave. But, at Gabe's insistence, the Caleighs decide to give the house a chance after all.

Strange noises from a hall closet and the footsteps in the attic keep the family up all night and before long, they begin to suffer violently real nightmares. The Caleighs discover that the house has a terrible and tragic past: In 1943, a great flood swept through the town of Hollow Bay killing sixty-three people. Of these, eleven were orphans sent to Crickley Hall to be cared for during the war. Their caretaker, Augustus Cribben, was a violent and demented man. Now, heavy rains, similar to those that caused the flood of 1943 have started again and the spirits of Crickely Hall are waking up.

James Herbert is one of my favorite horror authors. Commonly known as the "King" of British horror, a title that is well deserved, he manages to build amazing atmosphere in his books, ratcheting up the suspense and managing to creep out the reader well before throwing in the really scary stuff.
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on November 22, 2006
The title suggested a sinister old house with a ghostly secret and the story doesn't disappoint.

At 600 pages it's well worth it's money and Herbert builds up the tension nicely so that I had to read nearly all the last three hundred pages in one sitting!

For fans of James Herbert's earlier books, this isn't in the same gory style...however I like both styles, and it shows the authors talent to be able to write a thrilling book that doesn't have to rely on the gory side of horror to be thrilling.

I liked the characters (although I did find the husband, Gabe, a bit two dimensional) and some of the 'haunting' descriptions certainly had an effect on my vivid imagination.
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on November 2, 2011

I must take strong exception to several of the reviews here. But I want to begin by saying that I'm no die-hard fan of James Herbert. I discovered Herbert's novels when I was living in Bangkok, Thailand, where his books are quite apt to turn up. I've read perhaps four of his other novels, a couple of which I felt were quite good, and a couple that were just "okay". And over the years I've read a number of "ghost stories" by other authors. And, quite frankly, I find most ghost story novels to be quite disappointing. They are typically filled with episodes that have become quite cliched. The more serious flaw in many ghost story-novels is a lack of sophisticated writing that would elevate the stories above the mundane.

This, however, is the best ghost story-novel I have ever read. Yes, there are cliches here, but I'm beginning to wonder how many variations on ghostly apparitions there can really be. But, even where there are those cliches, and even when you sort of begin to know which way the plot is moving, the quality of the writing here is so good that it makes it an enjoyable read. In fact, this is a rather long novel -- the edition I have is over 600 pages. And as a result, Herbert fleshes out (pun intended) the characters of the ghosts and living humans better than most authors tend to do. And, the detail he gives to the historical plot is done quite well: you get parts of the story throughout the first two-thirds of the novel, and then he begins to tell what led to the haunting in detail. This keeps you guessing for a long while, while giving you enough to keep the plot moving intelligently...which is about as far as most ghost story novelists take you. But then Herbert fills in the missing pieces of the incidents which led up the haunting. It's really quite cleverly done, and also quite a tragic story -- orphans who have been tortured by an evil guardian, then murdered, but not free to "move on"...all wrapped up in a WWII context. And, perhaps it's the inclusion of an American husband, but this novel doesn't seem as "British" as most of Herbert's novels, so it's more comfortable to American readers.

I highly recommend this book if you are into supernatural novels. Excellent read, right up there with the best.
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on June 2, 2016
Much has been said by reviewers about this book being too long and all repetitions in it - I completely agree with those reviewers. The author keeps describing the same moment as seen by everybody present, and since they all are seeing the same so it is quite boring.
The American father - almost a comic character. His daughter corrects his English because she does not want him to be recognizable American. In fact, he speaks like a hillbilly American. Come out of it! He is supposed to be a brilliant engineer and an educated person. Not all Americans speak like that!!
The vortex of bad things in the Crickley Hall appear to be in the "cellar" - right from the moment the family enters the house, it is clear. Even if there are no ghosts, there is that dangerous well. And the door keeps unlocking itself. So - how long should it take for responsible parents to fix that door even if just nailing it into the frame??? Never happens. They just keep closing it walking by like zombie.
The grieving mother irritated life out of me. All the BS about a "telepathic connection" with her son. Where was that connection when her son had been taken from her while she slept on a park bench? So now she's endangering her other kids while insisting on staying in the obviously bad place just because she feels her (definitely dead) son is alive and reaching to her through that place.
One of the last scenes - the same grieving mother sitting on her butt in the middle of havoc while her daughter is taken by the villain to the basement to be killed. She just freaking SITS there, and what if her husband did not show up? Huh? She did not EXPECT anybody coming that night, so why did not she try to fight for her child? How am I expected to feel anything but contempt for such characters?
And so it all was going on and on and on for 500+ pages.
Then, the last 150 pages or so, we have the climax with all usual cliches - impossible villain, stupidest victims making all the wrong moves, etc. Very template-ish.
What I did not understand and would consider very irresponsible were it to happen for real was the fact that, in the end, they did not expose the truth. So all evil people got to keep their pristine reputations intact. I so hoped that nasty minister's wife would get to eat a piece of humble pie. But no, they could not be bothered. The excuse - "who would believe it" - does not work for me. Everything could have been explained were they to tell the story shared by the villain who drowned in the well.
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on July 17, 2007
This here's a haunted house novel. I read Herbert's "Once..." and thought it was kind of ok, and was willing to give him a shot at the classic haunted house story. The author has a very simple style of writing that reads like a young adult title. He repeats himself constantly, as if he's talking to a young child. Not sure if he's just padding the page count or what. As well as the simplistic style that repeats itself constantly, the characters are stock and thin, and the plot a yawner. This one adds nothing to the haunted house genre. Try Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" or Matheson's "Hell House" instead.
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on November 29, 2014
I saw the movie first and thought it was pretty good. When I discovered this book I knew I had to read it and was a bit disappointed in how Herbert treated the little Jewish boy. I wasn't surprised at the level of violence aimed in hatred, but it seemed too extreme and I preferred the different way it happened in the movie. I usually love James Herbert books, but even though this one held my attention I wish it had been a bit more like the movie. I was surprised at the complexity of the villains in the story as they weren't quite so three dimensional in the movie. I did not find a character to rally behind, which was a disappointment.
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on June 11, 2013
I felt in the mood for a good haunted-house story, so I picked this book up at random, never having heard of the author. I'm sad to say I was disappointed.

The book showed promise. The story behind Crickley Hall was an interesting one, and if handled correctly could've been a really fun, scary tale. However, Herbert failed completely to draw me into the story. I had no sympathy for the protagonists; there was just no reason for me to care about them. It felt as though Herbert thought the fact that they'd lost their son would garner my sympathy, but the characters were so uninteresting that I just couldn't care. The antagonists were ridiculously one-dimensional, the main reason for their actions being that they were "evil and crazy". The book abounded with cliches as well, from the dog being afraid of the ghosts, to the village-people saying the house is cursed, to the woman believing in the ghosts while her husband thinks she's crazy. There was even a chapters-long Villain Monologue at the end, right in the middle of the "thrilling" climax.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention how mind-numbingly repetitive the writing was. Herbert for some reason felt the need to reiterate nearly everything he said, several times over. There was constant explaining and re-explaining of plot points in huge chunks of exposition. It honestly felt like he wrote 200 pages of a book, then realized he'd been expected to write 600 and needed to pad things out.

Overall, this book was a huge disappointment. I really expected better from what the cover told me was "Britain's own horror-meister".
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