A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan #BookReview #BlogTour

Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.

At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.

For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for A House Of Ghosts today. Many thanks to William  Ryan, Zaffre and Tracy Fenton from Compulsive Readers Blog Tours for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel, received through NetGalley.

There’s something about the onset of autumn, the damp, grey mists and  the chill in the air, which lends itself to ghost stories and The House of Ghosts is just the sort of book which should be read on a cold, dark evening, snuggled up on the sofa with a fire roaring. However, although I have the sofa, I’m missing the fire and read most of this engrossing tale during daylight hours. Thankfully W.C. Ryan provided the atmosphere as he transported me to the bleakly remote island and the mysterious Blackwater Abbey where most of the action takes place.
I don't think it would be unfair to describe A House of Ghosts as a homage to And Then There Were None with its assembled cast of house guests all stuck on an isolated island as a murderer hides amongst them with any number of suspects. However, I was also reminded of another of Agatha Christie's novels, The Secret Adversary as Donovan and Kate's relationship sparkles with a similar witty repartee and chemistry to that between Tommy and Tuppence, ensuring the novel has a light-hearted touch throughout despite the chilling and often emotional subject matter. The narrative is mostly divided between their perspectives with the occasional scene shown from the point of view of other characters and they are both interesting and deeply engaging protagonists with pasts that invite curiosity.
The book is set during World War One, a time when, quite understandably, there was a growing interest in the spiritual world and the mediums who claimed to be able to converse with loved ones. This also meant a rise in charlatans who preyed on the bereaved - of whom there were many, of course - and so it's fascinating to see Kate's doubts about the two mediums present at Blackwater Abbey, given that she can definitely see the many ghosts gathered there. I loved that she is rather sceptical despite her own abilities, of which she seems to endure rather than consider them a gift.
Most of those present are suffering grief and loss as the shadow of war rips families apart and leaves those left behind tormented by guilt and their memories. Those who have seen active service are still haunted by their experiences and the sense of claustrophobia which pervades the book is a starkly poignant reminder of the horrifying conditions they faced in the tunnels under the trenches. Donovan is a particularly enigmatic figure; his nightmares and reluctance to enter dark, cramped spaces are an indication of the horrors he has faced, yet as an Irishman, he isn't weighed down by the patriotic desire to do his duty and his involvement with the mysterious C and his role as a spy is especially intriguing.
This is a book of many layers - an atmospheric ghost story, a compelling spy thriller, a puzzling murder mystery and a touching exploration of the human cost of war, both in terms of the anguish of bereavement and the terror of what we now recognise as PTSD. The superb characterisation is matched by the evocative, often chilling sense of place, exquisite rendering of the time period and the intricate plotting, which all meant I couldn't put A House of Ghosts down. The ending suggests there may be more adventures to come for Donovan and Kate, I certainly hope so, for this hugely appealing pairing offers much promise for an addictive series of books. In the meantime, I thoroughly recommend A House of Ghosts as a brilliantly spine-tingling story packed with suspense and emotion. I loved it!

A House of Ghosts is published by Zaffre and can be purchased from Amazon, Hive or from your local independent book store.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

W. C. Ryan is a pseudonym for William Ryan, author of The Constant Soldier and the Korolev series of historical crime novels. His books have been shortlisted for numerous awards including the Theakston Crime Novel of the Year Award, the CWA Historical Dagger and the Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award and have been translated into over a dozen languages. William is married and lives in West London.


  1. Looks fantastic! Shared your review to the Historical Mystery Books facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1382771681803975/


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