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Torture Chamber

Novel by Ruth Hurst Vose (UK) 1986.

In what is basically a historical novel transplanted into the modern day, Paul and Eleanore Grant arrive with their children on the Merrick estate where he is to be an assistant gamekeeper. But the house they are installed in has no electricity or running water, and they are informed that they have to change their name to Kirby for the duration of his employment! Soon they find out that something sinister is going on, as numerous previous gamekeepers have turned up dead, the estate seems not to have left the seventeenth century, and there's a mysterious man roaming about. Lord Merrick, in charge of the estate, is a disfigured wartime prisoner of war, who is rarely seen, but seems to have a role laid out for Eleanore.

Torture, religious persecution, manhunts reminiscent of The Most Dangerous Game, the horrors of German death camps - this is horrific stuff for a historical novel. And with a title as subtle as this one, it certainly belongs here. For a first novel, it is immensely involving; we always want to find out more about the estate, the characters and the story. We are drawn in to the suspense which builds slowly but effectively. We are fascinated by historical asides into the persecution of Catholics, the use of mantraps or leeches and the priceless wonders of the house. But we are also required to suspend our disbelief. If the novel has a major flaw, it is the lack of credible behaviour at some points. The Grants are installed into a house straight out of the 1600s and have to change their name, but they are not particularly worried! Yeah, right. As a novel this is a success, as a first novel it is surprisingly well done.


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