The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall
by Mary Downing Hahn
Release Date: September 6, 2010
2010 Clarion Books
Hardcover Edition; 153 Pages
Genre: Historical Ghost Story
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
When twelve-year-old Florence boards the horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life at Crutchfield Hall, her great-uncle's manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, Florence thinks, than the grim London orphanage she has just left.
Florence doesn't reckon with the eerie presence that haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield. It's the ghost of her cousing Sophia, who died the year before. Sophia's ghost seeks to recreate the scene of her death and cause someone else to die in her place so that she will be restored to life. And she intends to force her newly arrived cousin to help her.
When I received The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall for review, I was excited as I love ghost stories and I really enjoy reading anything by Mary Downing Hahn. And while I enjoyed this book, there just wasn't enough suspense and scary moments to do a ghost story justice, even for a juvenile fiction novel.
The novel had a promising beginning, with all of the elements of a great ghost story. There was a great description of the spooky old hall, the cantakerous old aunt who disliked Florence on sight (it kind of reminded of Rebecca, for some reason), the kind old uncle (although this was reinforced so often it seemed like it was overkill in my mind), and the younger cousin James who was bedridden after the death of his sister. There were the elements of being 'watched', having difficulty sleeping, spooky corridors and secret rooms and attics, and plenty of other secrets in the house. Yet, despite this auspicious beginning, the rest of the story didn't really unfold the same way, and I was somewhat disappointed. The ghost just suddenly appeared, with very little build-up or suspense, and I was left feeling like I missed something important. Now, I realize this book is being marketed to younger children, but I have read great ghost stories also marketed to this age group, where the suspense and build-up left even me hanging on to the edge of my seat, so I don't feel that was the problem. I just feel like the story skipped some important elements and went right to the ghost. I do have to admit that the descriptions of the scene where Sophia escapes her grave are pretty creepy, but this doesn't carry through to the rest of the book, unfortunately.
The story is very well-written, in Ms. Hahn's usual brilliant style, but the plot itself seems listless and dull compared to her other books. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, but not as a ghost story: I should have felt those eerie moments that often come with reading ghost stories and I didn't feel that with this novel. The potential for this novel to be a creepy ghost story was certainly there, but unfortunately, it never seemed to reach that potential. The characters didn't have a lot of depth to them, except maybe for Sophia, and I couldn't relate to any of them, and as the story jumped around, there wasn't a lot of room for character development. The old aunt just drove me crazy as there was no real reason for the way she behaved, except she loved one person absolutely and disliked everyone else; I didn't understand why and no explanation was given. It was a little frustrating. One of the characters I did feel empathy for was the maid Nellie, who had to deal with all of the personalities in the house and always be agreeable about it.
The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall had moments that were interesting, but in the end I was disappointed with the novel and with the story. I felt there was little resolution and I was not satisfied with the ending. Having read other Mary Downing Hahn novels however, novels that did give me chills, I will definitely continue to read future novels by this author, as I truly enjoyed Closed for the Season, The Old Willis Place, and All The Lovely Bad Ones, novels I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a good ghost story for the younger crowd.