Tag Archives: Printer’s Devil Court

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Ghosts are, as a rule, conservative creatures that do not tend to wander much beyond their favoured haunts. That they are also, at least in literature and the traditional ghost story, bound to return to our plane with some form of purpose, to re-enact some past trauma, or to seek retribution, or some form of restitution, is a given. On occasion, however, the ghost may venture further abroad, and such is the case in this tale, where the protagonist finds that a certain presence manifests itself at a far remove from where it was originally encountered.

In this novella, Hill leads us on an excursion into the contemporary gothic, where secrets, the supernatural, and psychological repression converge within the confines of an idyllic English country garden. It is a literary tale with a literary theme, where an antiquarian book dealer’s quest for a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio becomes entwined with a deep self-questioning and sense of doubt, arising from a sequence of vivid impressions that he is unable to explain with any rational lucidity. The chill follows the protagonist from the Downs to loftier heights amidst the mountains of France, where a monastic setting provides an additional soupçon of the gothic. There may be others who possess an insight into the state in which he finds himself, but any such revelations you must discover for yourself.

This is an enjoyable read that I found more to my taste than Hill’s Printer’s Devil Court. Rather than focusing upon ‘jump scares’, as seems to be much the fashion these days, this novella focused upon creating a general ambience of unease, which is a technique that I, personally, find far more satisfying.

The Small Hand by Susan Hill may be previewed and purchased by clicking here.

Review of Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

A light appetiser of a tale to be read in a single sitting, that will produce neither upset, nor any great sense of satisfaction in the reader. Although the writing is competent and not without atmosphere, and its Mary Shelleyesque theme diverting enough, Printer’s Devil Court possesses all the hallmarks of a story that should either have been shorter, or longer, but not the length that it is. It reads like a first draft for something meant to be more substantial, but which, for whatever reason, was left in its embryonic form and served up to the public. Either the author lacked the requisite motivation and energy to work it up into anything longer, or the demands of the publisher led to its seeing the light of day, semi-formed, in the autumn run-up to the Christmas book-buying extravaganza. A number of obvious typographic errors, as well as a certain peculiarity relating to its illustration, suggest that it was the latter. If this story had been written by anyone with a lesser public profile than Susan Hill, it strikes me that it would not have found a publisher.  

The illustrator, it would seem, had read no further than the first sentence, and given it a cursory glance at that, before setting about producing the engravings for this sumptuously bound little volume. Why would I say this? Well, the opening lines make reference to ‘the days of Dickens’, although if we set these four words within the context of a slightly longer sentence fragment we learn that the tale was set quite some time later, for it refers to ‘an area which could not at the time have changed greatly since the days of Dickens.’ The illustrator has therefore diligently produced a set of charming illustrations from the age of Cruikshank, that punctuate the text here and there with figures sporting the fashions of the 1840s/1850s, and a paddle steamer alongside a fully rigged man-o’-war at rest on the Thames at Greenwich. All very Dickensian, which is something of a problem, for the story itself is not, despite its vague and murky setting amidst London’s fog and frost. The sole concrete temporal reference is a mention of the protagonist’s visit to London at the bidding of his stepson, which takes place after the Blitz had wrought its destruction. This is said to have been approximately forty years after he, then in his mid-twenties, had left London for a life in the country. This would suggest that the setting for the pivotal scene was most likely Edwardian London, or possibly at a push, the capital during the fin de siècle. The illustrations therefore, constitute a most peculiar, and glaring, anachronism.  

The story, in many respects, is as vague and ephemeral as an ectoplasmic materialisation, its form and setting lightly sketched in an impressionistic manner, its characters written with suggestive strokes that impress themselves upon the reader’s imagination no more than the phantom, that lends the tale its spectral element, imposed its form upon the air that it occupied.  

To preview or purchase Printer’s Devil Court, either click here, or upon the picture above.  

H.E. Bulstrode’s comic ghostly novella Old Crotchet’s Return – a sequel to Old Crotchet – will be published shortly. To find out when, please sign up to his mailing list by clicking here.