The Haunted Hotel:
A Mystery of Modern Venice
by Wilkie Collins
Publisher; Penguin Books/Australia/2009
Plot; Set in 1860's London, Lord Montbarry is promised to be wed to Agnes Lockwood when he meets Countess Narona, an unconventionally beautiful woman with a pale complexion, luminescent dark hair and hypnotising eyes. He instantly breaks his engagement to Agnes to wed the Countess.
After a quick marriage and a brief trip around Europe for their honeymoon the couple settle into a Venetian palace with the companionship of the Baron, the Countesses brother, and their two servants, one of whom has been personally referred by Agnes and mysteriously disappears. However, once the honeymoon is over, and their life of marriage truly begins Montbarry finds himself in a loveless marriage and a desperate position.
Lovesick Agnes is left devastated by the news of Montbarry's new wife, so when she hears news of his death, through a sense of loyalty to him, she cannot help but search for answers. She does this with the help of the Montbarry family and Henry, Montbarry's younger brother, who has loved her since the moment he first met her.
On their journey for the truth Agnes and Henry seek help from medical practitioners, lawyers and, when they eventually stumble across Montbarry's newly signed life insurance, they seek the advice of Montbarry's insurer. All of which lead them to stay in the once Venetian Palace which has now become Venice's newest hotel, The Haunted Hotel.
My Thoughts; This was a suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable page turner about the inevitable and relentless power of fate and the struggle against it.
Collins' writing is straight-forward and travels in a fast pace which often added to the thrill of the story. The most enticing thing about this book was the way in which Collins generates and holds the suspense. Throughout the story Collins asks the reader questions which draw the reader into the story. One such example is on page 125;
"what unexpected even had lead Henry to alter his plans? and why did he state the bare fact, without adding a word of explanation? Let the narrative follow him- and find the answers to those questions at Venice."
More often than not, by the time I have read a third of a mystery novel I can typically point out who the perpetrator is, but this book left me guessing all the way to the final pages. I was baffled. This alone is enough to make me love The Haunted Hotel, so also being able to enjoy the characters and their surrounds has placed this in my list of favourite reads.
There was only one aspect of this novel that I didn't appreciate and that was the melodramatic Countess. Obsessed with the idea of fatality I found this women to be a chore! I understand that I am not always going to like every character in a story, and most commonly this dislike only adds to the onslaught of emotions that a good book causes. What was most offensive about this character was that I barely understood a word of what she said. The way in which she speaks is vaguely similar to the crazy spouts of doom and gloom one would expect from a homeless man with a "the end is neigh" board across his chest.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, especially anyone with a preference for mysteries full of suspense and intrigue.
Picture; A portrait of Wilkie Collins by Rudolf Lehmann 1880. The National Portrait Gallery, London.