The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
"Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house's sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a pale young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose." (from Goodreads)
The subject: a house shrouded in mystery and whispers, and a town scared to death of its secrets.
The setting: England, more specifically Crythin Gifford, most specifically Eel Marsh House. Not sure of the exact year but it had an early 1900s feel to it. (They were using both pony-and-traps and motor cars, after all.) The atmosphere the author instills in her descriptions, particularly those of the marsh and the foreboding house, was by far one of my favourite aspects of this book. Ghost stories thrive on cultivating the right mood, and Susan Hill excels at that. I could see the desolate scene she paints clearly in my mind's-eye.
Shutter speed: slow, but that suits the nature of the story. (And it's a short book, anyway.)
What's in the background? A whole lot of unanswered questions relating to the backstory of some of the characters. The narrator Arthur Kipps is telling his own ghost story, so we get it entirely from his perspective...and we don't ever really find out what the ghost has to say on the matter.
Zoom in on: Spider, the adorable little dog that Arthur befriends. I hate most spiders, but I loved this one.
Anything out of focus? While there's certainly an unsettling element to the situation Arthur finds himself in, the whole supernatural side of things isn't all that scary, really. And the mystery behind the haunted house is hardly surprising; I'm not sure if it was intended to be. Given all the clues leading up to it, the "reveal" is not really a reveal as much as it is a straightforward and more thorough explanation. The ending, though – now that gives the reader more of a sickening jolt.
I did find the end rather abrupt; I thought it would spend more time wrapping up, coming full-circle back to Arthur and his family in the present day.
Ready? Say... "Shhhh...did you hear that?"
Click! 4 shooting stars. For readers who like their ghost stories free from violence and gore, but not free from a spooky setting, some supernatural creepiness, and a fantastically spot-on early-1900's-British tone and writing style (even though this book was actually published in 1983).