Book Review: “The Small Hand” by Susan Hill.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill is a ghost story but not the kind you would tell around the campfire to spook your friends. It is a story of sorrow and guilt, while touching on aspects of mental illness. The ghosts in the fiction of the piece are definitely real, but they are also skeletons in the closet for at least one character, and an impetus for self-harm.

Adam Snow is a book dealer who deals with rare and expensive books for private clients, searching across the globe for whatever those clients might be willing to pay for. During one trip to a client’s home, Adam stumbles upon an old, decrepit house in the woods. He feels drawn to the place, and then even more so when he feels a child’s hand gripping his. However, when he looks down he discovers that there’s no child there… at least not a living one, anyway.

Adam flees the property but the presence doesn’t always go away. Even when he travels to a monastery in France in search of a rare book for the aforementioned client, he feels the hand again when wandering the grounds. The “child” leads him to a pool of water, pulling stronger as they get nearer. It seems that every time he goes towards water, he has to fight the urge to fall in.

He ends up seeking the advice of his brother Hugo, who had a breakdown himself and almost died in a similar fashion. Hugo dismisses the idea of a ghost, trying to pass off Adam’s problems as simply a breakdown of his own. However, Adam’s search for answers leads him back to the house to discover some unsettling secrets about their past, which leads to a confrontation with Hugo and ultimately uncovering guilty secrets.

While the supernatural does exist in this story, Hill may be using the hand to represent the urge to harm one’s self. Some people may be able to let go of the hand for good, while some are not, which may lead to dire consequences for them and their loved ones.

On the surface, The Small Hand works as a spooky ghost story. However, the stock spookiness inherent in such stories is replaced by melancholy here. Instead of frightening us sometimes ghosts can sadden us, especially if they reflect what we detest in ourselves

Book Review: “Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis” by Anne Rice.

I have a disclaimer, or rather a confession: prior to reading Anne Rice’s latest book in The Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, I had only read the first book in the series, Interview with a Vampire and the latest, Prince Lestat. But while I don’t have the in-depth knowledge of every book of the series—that will come at some point—the latest book and its predecessor gave enough backstory in their narrative so I could not only follow what’s going on but also see how each book has been building on the previous work.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis not only expands upon a lot of the ideas set forth in Prince Lestat but it’s also more entertaining. Whereas Prince Lestat meanders and takes its sweet time getting anywhere, Atlantis moves along at a steady pace. There’s still a lot of vampires and ghosts sitting around talking and unnecessary detail cropping up all over the place (seriously, I don’t need to know what each character is wearing every time one shows up in a scene). But the filler is laced with plenty of tension and in some cases action to make the story interesting.

The book also allows for the series to take on science fiction elements as well. Enter the Replamoids—creatures that were sent to Earth thousands of years ago to seek out Amel and assassinate him, or at least coax him in to returning with them to the home world of the Parents, owl-like aliens who monitor the universe. Amel has previously in The Vampire Chronicles existed as the spirit from which the vampire race stems. In Prince Lestat Amel possesses Lestat as the latter ascends to the throne of Prince of all of the Vampires. The new book finally reveals Amel’s past with a dramatic twist for those used to the character, shocking the vampires and reader alike.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis finally provides some conclusions to aspects of the vampires’ own mythology, while seeking to answer new questions about their own nature. At the same time by the end of the book it doesn’t feel like the story is finished. There’s more to tell about life after the events with Amel and Lestat that are presented. The book also occasionally foreshadows a possible return of Memnoch. Tensions also linger with the rogue vampire Roshamandes, although I get the feeling that any future tales with him won’t focus around him specifically but he’ll show up to be a pain in Lestat’s backside once more.

The book is intelligently and romantically written, despite the above complains about filler. Yes, it could be shorter without losing any of its impact. But that impact isn’t lost with it, either. Perhaps the new television series, which will simply show what the actors are wearing, will be able to stick to the point. But right now I’ll live with the books as the way they are. I’m certainly looking forward to see where The Vampire Chronicles go from here.