The Mist in the Mirror
Susan Hill is most famous for her spine-chiller, The Woman in Black, and once more she brings us the supernatural. The novel opens with an unnamed narrator meeting Sir James Monmouth at his club and from whom he receives a manuscript that is the substance of this tale. Monmouth is a world-weary man returning to England after a lifetime spent in exotic places where he was inspired to follow in the footsteps of his hero, the late explorer, Conrad Vane, and whose life he now intends to research in detail. But from the moment Monmouth arrives in London, he is dogged by apparitions and sinister happenings. He also encounters several individuals who warn him against researching Vane’s life.
The mirror of the title plays a minor role, and the main spectre is a sad, ragged boy who appears and disappears with regularity. When Monmouth discovers the boy may have links to his own family heritage in Yorkshire, he is determined to find out exactly who he is. There are more than enough ghostly ingredients – dark alleyways and corridors, a haunted library, moors, mansions, a crypt, plus a fair amount of unexplained “soft breathing” – to keep any fan of such doings enthralled, but the only truly chilling episode comes a few pages from the end.
The narrative is lush and descriptive and has all the hallmarks of the florid writing of 19th-century authors. This certainly does suit its menacing atmosphere to some extent, but it takes just a bit too long to get to the point, and the conclusion is disappointingly abrupt, with the background and the evil motivations of Vane never fully expanded. If you really enjoy being terrified out of your wits, this doesn’t quite make it.