Coming off a very difficult breakup, landscaper Jonas Laurence hopes to find a bit of respite modernizing the gardens of Lord Stanley’s Hillcomb Hall. After a long carriage ride with nothing but a book and thoughts of his former paramour to keep him company, Jonas is anxious to get to work. The lady of the house, however, informs Jonas that Graham—Lord Stanley—has been detained and won’t arrive at the estate until the following day. Tired from the long journey, even if by automobile, Jonas retires soon after dinner. In his rooms, Jonas discovers both that there are wild tales of hauntings abounding at Hillcomb Hall and that the footman assigned to be his valet is cut from the same cloth as Jonas. Suddenly, the promise of a little tryst before getting to work in the gardens makes Lord Stanley’s delay all the more palatable.
But not everything is as it seems. For one thing, Jonas is certain he sees strange, shadowy figures walking the grounds of the estate. For another, a massive portrait in the hallway that depicts the master of the house some two generations prior haunts Jonas’ thoughts and movements. Finally, there is a strange, sultry dream that visits him upon his first night at Hillcomb. With the man of the house inexplicably delayed further and after Jonas has an unwelcome encounter with the valet, Jonas is determined to leave. But when Jonas learns the truth about Hillcomb Hall, will it be enough to change his mind?
The Ghost of Hillcomb Hall is a period novella set in England in 1910. It features a rather wealthy landscaper who has carved out a place for himself among the aristocracy and pits him against several possible love interests: the valet, the ghost of the man from the portrait, and the Earl himself. Fans of Julien Fellowes’ work will recognize the “upstairs/downstairs” elements, but the main character being a self-made man rather than a peer adds a bit of color to the story. Personally, I questioned the accuracy of some of the historical elements. For example, I wasn’t convinced a maid would so consistently speak so freely to a guest.
I thought the story itself built up into a pretty fantastic thriller-esque romance. Joshua Ian’s use of the “ghost” device in the title, as a feature of the plot, and as the bringer of the climax had me flipping pages ever faster. The weather (often rainy and gloomy, with howling wind and whipping trees) makes for a cozy fall-time read for October. I also really enjoyed the in absentia Lord Stanley. This character eventually shows up on page…but everything that precedes him just added to the mystery. When he finally appears, he brings some tender backstory that adds an element of unrequited love. The potential for Jonas to fall in love also builds a nice bit of tension. I honestly wasn’t sure who to root for…
Overall, I think the tone of the prose, the seemingly continuous revelations Jonas discovers towards the end of the book, and the manor-house setting make this a very enjoyable read. That said, I did think there were some significant plotting issues. For example, even though all the characters seem to find a happily ever after, I wasn’t very clear on how Lord and Lady Stanley’s relationship worked, despite what felt like constant, veiled comments about the issue. Then there is the matter of how many times we hear about the house being haunted and that there is a ghost, but I didn’t feel they were adequately resolved on page. I literally was sitting down to write this review when I realized exactly what was happening, and I think it is definitely something that could have been mentioned on page to wrap up that aspect of the book.
Despite a few perceived shortcomings in period elements and some wonky plot elements, I think the story overall holds a lot of appeal. Anyone looking to curl up with a slightly spicy ghost/mystery novel will enjoy this story, and it is a nice, quick read.