The Ghost of Hollow House (Mina Scarletti Mystery)

Written by Linda Stratmann
Review by K. M. Sandrick

The veiled outline of a woman in white at the window of what was once a nursery and is now a locked storeroom. Small pebbles dropping out of nowhere onto a dining room table. A human skeleton hidden under floorboards in an attic room. These and other happenings are fodder for the latest adventure of amateur sleuth and writer Mina Scarletti.

Scarletti is no stranger to the ways of spiritualists, mediums, séances, believers and charlatans in 1870s England. In three previous volumes, she has delved into family mysteries as well as a supposed haunting of the Royal Pavilion by King George IV.

In The Ghost of Hollow House, she is asked by a friend to visit Ditchling Hollow in the Sussex hills and the house of a newly married woman who hears strange noises in the night. She soon learns of tragedies that beset nearby villages—the three-train collision in the Clayton Railway Tunnel that killed or injured nearly 200 passengers and the Clayton Hills windmills that may be resting on the site of a gallows where the dead were left to molder—as well as a burial in unsanctified ground and a missing child and maidservant.

While plot resolution is quick and somewhat facile, the unraveling of the mysteries is a satisfying journey. Particularly compelling is Scarletti, a diminutive young woman born with severe curvature of the spine. Author Stratmann leads the reader to understand the threats to the woman’s health from compressed lungs and a hesitant, compromised gait and the accommodations she invents to counteract infirmity, such as a wedge that allows Scarletti to sit up straight and relieve stress. This is an enterprising, sensible and gritty character worth following.