The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)

The start of fall and the approach of Halloween, a month-long celebration in our house, means all the readers in my family turn to slightly darker books. With that in mind, I came across a list of some classic thrillers on GoodReads that I had never read and added them to the library Hold Shelf. (Oh, the library hold-shelf! The thrill of online shopping with none of the guilt!)

The Woman in Black is a slim novella set in a dreary corner of England where a local house is the source of much superstition and folklore. It has everything I love in a scary story — a secluded town, foggy weather, locals who refuse to talk about the strange happenings around town, and an outsider about to find out the hard way that local legends are based on facts. Written in pitch-perfect Gothic style with a hint of Jane Eyre, despite being written in 1983, the tone is perfect, tension building and weather worsening the closer the protagonist travels towards the doomed town. Hill’s characters evade questions about strange events, their fear evident; they tell the protagonist half-truths and warn him of dangers that they will not articulate. You’ll be terrified for him as tries to uncover the horror the town does not want shared…but not so scared you cannot get to sleep.

In my favorite passage from the book, the main character’s children sit around the fire on Christmas Eve telling scary, and then scarier, stories. He begins describing the elements that their shared stories include and we get a sense that some, if not all of these horrors, will be a part of his story. Here is the wonderful quote,

His children, “told of dripping stone walls in uninhabited castles, of ivy-clad monastery ruins by moonlight, of locked inner rooms and secret dungeons, dank charnel houses and overgrown graveyards, of footsteps creaking upon staircases and fingers tapping on casements, of howlings and shriekings, groanings, scuttlings and clanking of chains, of hooded monks and headless horsemen, swirling mists and sudden winds, insubstantial specters and sheeted creatures, vampires and bloodhounds, bats and rats and spiders, of men found at dawn and women white-haired and raving lunatic, of vanished corpses and curses upon heirs.”

Absolutely worth a read this October.

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