THE HAUNTING OF HENDERSON CLOSE by Catherine Cavendish, Flame Tree Press, paperback edition, $14.95
Following a divorce, and her daughter moving to Australia, Hannah leaves teaching and moves to Edinburgh to start a new life, finding her dream job as a tour guide at the historic street, Henderson Close. Once the centre of a poor and squalid area, the Close was eventually built over so that it became an underground memory, now opened to tourists with guides acting out parts from the past.
The close has always been known to have the occasional unexplained event – tourists claiming to see people who weren’t there, cold spots, odd smells – but Hannah’s arrival triggers an upsurge in the spooky activity and worse, it seems to follow her home.
Cavendish sets the scene exceptionally well and the book is atmospheric and spooky throughout. I really loved the first half or so of the book, with hauntings, time slips and odd behaviour from the other staff at the Close.
I also really enjoyed the scenes set in the past, showing us what life was really like for those who lived in Henderson Close, struggling for money and fighting off the disease brought about by living in poverty and squalor. Miss Carmichael is a fascinating character and I would have liked to have learned a bit more about her during the chapters set during her lifetime.
The odd happenings in the modern-day close were well-written and spooky, the characters reactions to them mostly believable and I really enjoyed the scenes in the close itself, when odd things happened during tours.
For me, the second half of the book went downhill. There was a particularly brutal scene that felt out of place with the rest of the story and was very jarring to read. There were too many subplots and too many of those were left unresolved, all taking time and attention away from the main story. It all got a bit convoluted, with attempts to tie the modern-day characters to the past that didn’t quite work for me. In the end, the book left me feeling unsatisfied, which was a shame because it got off to a great start.
Despite all that, I think I’d be quite keen to try something else by this author as the things she did well, she did very well indeed.