Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Book Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford.

Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Paperback, 282 pages.
Release date:  August 16th 2010.
Ages: Young Adult.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to Mrs Cotton, the tyrannical housekeeper. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.

So when a real ghost makes an appearance - that of her beloved mother - no one is more surprised than Abi. But the spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down. 

Greave Hall, the setting for The Poisoned House is one of those creepy, atmospheric old houses that can send shivers down your spine as soon as you step inside it‘s doors. Full of creaking floorboards, creepy cobweb-filled cellars and things that go bump in the night, it holds a lot of dark secrets. It is also home to Abigail Tamper, a teenage servant girl who we first meet as she tries to make her escape from the house. She is soon captured and returned to the clutches of Mrs. Cotton, a menacing housekeeper, who treats Abi with contempt and rules the house with a rod of iron.

It soon becomes apparent to Abigail on her return to the house that certain happenings in the Greave Hall may be of the otherworldly variety. Her mother, who died a year previously is not at rest, and is a ghostly presence throughout the house. It is up to Abi to uncover the mystery of her mother’s death, which she increasingly believes could have been sinister. There are definite gothic undertones to proceedings, although I felt that the ghostly theme was too underdone here. I love horror, and the house in this book really reminded me of the creepy Eel Marsh House in Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, so I was expecting some really big frights. However, that never happened, and while most readers will be happy with that, I really wanted a good scare. This book is a slow burner rather than an all-out horror, and while it is tense and atmospheric at times, I felt that it failed to deliver that final punch!

That said, there are some good twists in the tale, and the characters in the book are well written and believable. Abi is an easy character to warm to, and I felt for her as she went about her work in the house, watched over my the eagle eyed Mrs. Cotton, a character who reminded me of the devilish Mrs. Danvers from Du Maurier’s Rebecca. There is also a good cast of supporting characters in the book. Abi has good friends amongst the servants, and then there’s the return to the house of her childhood friend Samuel, who certainly makes life  more interesting in Greave Hall.

Overall, this is a good tale for younger readers who might like something a little spooky to add to their winter reading list. The writing style is simple and direct making  this a quick read. While I do think that the ending was a little rushed and inconclusive this book was, for the most part, entertaining,  and would be best read curled up by the fire while there’s a storm brewing outside.


  1. Great review! I've linked to it from mine. I definitely thought this book was more creepy than scary. It was probably more 'story about a ghost' than 'ghost story', if that makes sense lol.

  2. I'm a huge, huge fan of gothic novels and this one, cover and synopsis, sounds like it could be right up my alley. I have seen a lot of mixed reviews around this one though, but still think I'll give it a read. On another note, I'm a big, big 'fraidy cat so the fact that it wasn't all that scary would probably be a bonus for me. *grins*


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