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The Woman in Black    by Susan Hill order for
Woman in Black
by Susan Hill
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2011 (2002)
* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Arthur Kipps begins his tale (set in Victorian England) of the woman in black years after his encounter with the horrifying apparition. As a young and ambitious lawyer, Arthur accepts an assignment which takes him from the crowded and fog infested streets of London to one of England's most desolate locations. Arthur is requested to attend to the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow. He is instructed to attend the funeral, sort and collect her private papers, and dispatch them to London. At first, Arthur finds the prospect of the journey exhilarating, but as he comes closer to Eel Marsh House, he begins to note that everyone he encounters has the same eerie reaction to a mention of Mrs. Drablow and her home.

Arthur does not believe in ghosts and dismisses the reactions of the locals as superstitious nonsense. But his stay at Eel Marsh House will permanently imprint the horror experienced by the locals on his own mind when the mysterious woman in black make her presence known to him. Arthur's first encounter with the woman in black is at Mrs. Drablow's funeral. Her sickly appearance gives Arthur the impression that she is merely an ailing relative of Mrs. Drablow. But when the same woman appears and mysteriously vanishes at the Drablow family cemetery, Arthur is forced to accept that the woman is a ghost.

Regardless of his encounter, Arthur stubbornly resolves to return to Eel Marsh House and finish his business. His experience with the woman in black only heightens his curiosity to discover who the apparition is and what business keeps her at Eel Marsh House. When Arthur is warned to return to London and leave Eel Marsh House at once, he is more determined than ever to confront the woman in black. But Arthur cannot conceive of the lingering evil and malice which keeps the woman in black haunting the halls of Eel Marsh House.

I thought the majority of The Woman in Black was more creepy than terrifying. The total isolation of Eel Marsh House in the salty marshes and blinding sea mist set the perfect atmosphere for a horror novel. But most of the horror in the novel is experienced in the past tense, as elderly Arthur recalls his encounter with the woman in black in his youth. The locals' suspicious silence about the identity of Mrs. Drablow and Eel Marsh House also make the novel more suspenseful than sleep-with-the-lights-on scary.

However, the author saved the woman in black's best moment for the end of the novel. Just when I was ready to dismiss the ghostly woman in black as mildly creepy, Susan Hill made my blood run cold, and I am not easily spooked! The ending is definitely the best part of the book, but it still makes for a spooky read. This is a novel that I cannot wait to see on the big screen in February 2012!

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