Review: Wilkie Collins – The Haunted Hotel

3rdghostbookcapncampI’m stretching the definition of crime fiction by including this book but I have to admit to a major weakness for ghost stories. I’ve been devouring this winter the vintage Pan ghost story collections that I’d ordered online and they’ve been a real treat. A ghost story is perfectly suited to the shorter form. Plot strands don’t need to be tied up. In fact, as readers, we want to be left scratching our heads and of course the scarier the story is, the better.

However, while browsing in Waterstones in Boston, Lincolnshire, I came across a reissue of Wilkie Collins’s The Haunted Hotel. It has a satisfyingly retro cover but, as I began to read it, I realised I’d forgotten what a good writer Collins is. I read both The Moonstone and The Woman in White as a teenager and it’s a shame that I left my reading of this writer with his two most famous books. The Haunted Hotel was first published in 1889 but there’s an Edwardian feel to the story. It opens with an eminent London physician receiving a visit from the Countess Narona who asks for his professional opinion as to whether she is evil or insane. She reveals that she is to be married to Lord Montbarry who has jilted his intended bride, Agnes Lockwood. A chance meeting between Agnes and the Countess has convinced the triumphant bride-to-be that Agnes will be her downfall in Venice.

9781784871154The plot then moves inexorably towards how Agnes, the Countess and various members of the Montbarry end up in a haunted hotel in Venice. The book is full of gothic elements: a missing servant, a veiled mourner and a body found in a fireplace. Somehow Collins manages to make it all believable and, as usual, the romance in the book has a realistic touch to it.

There’s another, short, ghost story at the end of the book, The Dream Woman. This was entertaining enough, but the real jewel is the story of the haunted hotel. A perfect winter read.

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23 thoughts on “Review: Wilkie Collins – The Haunted Hotel

  1. I can’t remember if I read this one or not. In my late teens (which was a lot longer ago than your late teens) the publisher Anthony Blond, who was just starting up a new imprint, reissued a number of Collins’s novels (no author to pay, you see) and I devoured them all, plus any others the local library could get hold of. I keep thinking now that I ought to go download a bundle of them from Gutenberg and have me a Wilkie-read/reread binge, but there are so many other books . . . That said, I might go see if PG has this one.

  2. My experience of Venice is that the whole place is haunted not just one hotel! A very good setting for a ghost story. I haven’t read this but have read The Woman in White and The Moonstone. I like the sound of this.

  3. I went through a period 9 or 10 years ago in which I devoured everything I could by Wilkie Collins. I loved that type of writing (and all the compound-complex sentences that go with it!), but the ethereal and ghostly aspects, while fascinating, were a bit overdone for my tastes. Still, overall I loved Collins.

    Then I discovered Michael Cox. I happened across an interview with him when his The Meaning of Night first came out. In that interview, he said Wilkie Collins was a huge influence on him. So I read the novel and his second one, The Glass of Time, and loved them both, but loved The Glass of Time more. If you like Collins, you may very well appreciate Cox. Regrettably, Michael Cox passed away before he could get his 3rd novel finished. He had a very rare type of cancer, and they gave him treatments that sent his energy level soaring. Knowing he might not have very much time left, he wrote that first novel day and night, sent 30,000 words to an agent, and the next thing you know, there was a huge bidding war for his book. His illness included intermittent (and potentially permanent) blindness, so the man was in a dead heat race to finish his first book. He had been working on it for 30 years!!! But he could never get beyond writing and re-writing his first chapter.

    One day, he re-read the first chapter and became inspired to finish the book. He got the second book finished too, and was more than halfway through the third when he died. Cox was relatively poor when he began to seriously write fiction, having left his great but low-paying job as an editor at Oxford University Press when he got sick. All he wanted to do, he said, was provide some financial stability to his wife and their daughter after he was gone. And that he did! He also gave me hours of thoroughly enjoyable reading a la the Wilkie Collins-type Victorian novel. Several of my own historical romances are set in the Victorian era, albeit the very late, late period from about 1890 to Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Both Collins and Cox were important influences to me for which I shall be forever grateful while recognizing they are each far better writers.

    • Hello and thanks for leaving such an interesting comment. I’ve mot heard of Cox, I’m afraid but I will check him out. It’s such a shame when writers die while in their prime but at least he left behind some excellent books.

  4. After reading your post on The Haunted Hotel last evening, I bought it for the Kindle, and immediately set upon it today. I have a dreadful cold–the kind when one is much too sick to work, but not sick enough to ruin the reading of a good book. I do think it’s excellent and it brightened my day, even though it’s a dark, macabre story! Thank you!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

  5. I loved this story, I read it and blogged on it a couple of years ago, having downloaded it for nothing on the Kindle. I see that in my blogpost I said that I like the way he writes about women, and that he is much better than Dickens in that respect.

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