I opened up a package a couple of weeks ago to find several advance reading copies sent my way from Flame Tree Press. One of the novels in the box was The Haunting of Henderson Close, by Catherine Cavendish. I took it and the other books and put them on the bookshelf down in my “studio” on the lower level of my house. There it sat for a few days till I began reading. I was hooked from the first paragraph:
The tall woman lifted her skirt as she crossed the filthy,
narrow street. Her nose wrinkled at the stench of human
waste, rotting fruit and vegetables and all manner of foul
remains that sloshed their way down the gutters of the
open sewer that was Henderson Close, deep in the squalid
heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Thus begins a tale that now sits in my list of favorite ghost stories. I can’t say it’s the scariest story I’ve ever read. Nor is it necessarily the freakiest or creepiest book I’ve come across. It does, however, have a sense of atmosphere I haven’t encountered very often. Cavendish does an excellent job of conveying the sights, sounds, and smells of the locales in her story. And she does it without an overabundance of needless description. I have read novels in the past where the author beat me over the head for several pages describing a single site in the story. Cavendish, thankfully, escorts the reader with a rich, yet to the point flair for description as she guides you through the tale.
The novel begins with a brutal murder that takes place in Henderson Close, back in 1891. The story then jumps to the present, where we follow Hannah, a new tour guide working at Henderson Close. She leads tour groups on a haunted tour through Henderson Close, regaling them with stories, some humorous and some frightening. Strange things start happening almost immediately after Hannah comes on board as a staff member. Sightings of mysterious people who vanish afterward, time-slips, strange sounds and smells, and something dark and deadly lurking within Henderson Close.
Tension builds throughout the book as bit by bit, the true nature of the evil at the heart of the Old Town is gradually revealed. I enjoyed the way the author told the story. She doesn’t rely on the stereotypical jump scare, or a gross-out scene, to hook the reader’s attention and keep him turning the pages. Cavendish’s technique is the literary equivalent of peeling an onion. Bit by bit, piece by piece, she leads us toward the core of the tale. Her skill at weaving words and sentences into elegant prose keeps us looking over her shoulder as she pares the onion down to it’s core. And, like the experience of a cook in the process of cutting into an onion, there may well be tears by the finale of the tale.
I loved this book. It’s the first story I’ve read by Catherine Cavendish, and it won’t be the last. She’s a gifted storyteller, and I was a bit sad to read the last page and then put the book down, in much the same way one feels upon watching the end of the final episode of a well-done television series. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a hauntingly good tale.