Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill read by Steven Pacey

printer's devil courtVictoria sponge…

🙂 🙂 😐

A young medical student has taken rooms in Printer’s Devil Court in London, sharing them with three other medical men. One evening, the four men have a discussion as to whether the story of Lazarus could possibly have been true – is it scientifically possible to bring someone back from the dead? Two of the men hint that they have been carrying out experiments on the subject and ask Meredith and the fourth man if they would like to join in. The fourth man considers the whole idea to be blasphemous and refuses, but Meredith’s curiosity wins out, and he agrees to be a witness to the experiments – a decision he will regret for the rest of his life.

Susan Hill has written this very much in the style of a Victorian ghost story although it’s set in the 20th century. It feels very much like working to a recipe…

1 notebook revealing a terrible secret
1 creepy street name
4 medical students
2 or 3 graveyards to taste
2 corpses
1 late night adventure in a mortuary
1 man racked by conscience and haunted for the rest of his life

Mix all together with a wooden spoon until smooth, and bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Unfortunately, the resulting cake is somewhat bland – a Victoria sponge without the jam perhaps. One feels that a vital ingredient has been forgotten…

1 generous splash of essence of horror

graveyard

The quality of the writing and storytelling is quite high – it’s just that it’s a story we’ve all heard so often in various forms and Hill brings nothing new to the recipe. I felt she was so busily ensuring that she got it to sound authentically Victorian, which she succeeds in doing very well, that she lost sight somewhat of the fact that a ghost story ought to be scary, and in order to be scary it must have some element of unpredictability. I kept hoping there was going to be a twist that would turn expectations on their head, but I’m afraid it ran along too smoothly from beginning to end without deviating from the obvious route. And there’s no added ingredient to make up for the lack of the scare factor – no great moral questions are raised, there’s no element of humour.

Susan Hill © Ben Graville
Susan Hill © Ben Graville

The most effective bits are the mortuary scene and the first graveyard scene, in both of which the quality of the writing does manage to create a chilling atmosphere, but from there on the story meanders on, not really going anywhere at all, until it reaches a completely anticlimactic end.

I listened to the audiobook version which has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. The narrator Steven Pacey does a good job with the material available, but I’m afraid that my spine remained untingled and my hair unraised.

NB This book was provided for review by Audible UK via Midas PR.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

43 thoughts on “Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill read by Steven Pacey

  1. Well, I love Steven Pacey’s narration of Susan Hill’s Serrailler series, so that’s a plus. However, a ghost story ought to be scary. So, you’re saying no ghosts, no vampires, no things that jump out at you? No Buffy or Angel? No Jack the Ripper? Sad. So sad. Somehow this premise reminds me of a movie that came out many years ago called Flatliners. Medical students that caused themselves to die and then be saved, just to see what was on the other side. I remember thinking it was an interesting premise and hoped no one tried it in real life.

    • Oh, somehow I hadn’t made the connection of it being the same author! Certainly I thought her writing was high quality – it was only the lack of scare factor that disappointed me. Nope, the scariest thing was a mysterious woman wandering about a graveyard in the middle of the night – not even a howling storm or hooting owl to liven things up. Yes, the premise is a bit like Flatliners – now that movie did scare me when I saw it many years ago in the cinema, though less effecetive in the small screen if I remember correctly. Much scarier than this story though and asked more uncomfortable questions.

  2. Sounds like it might be quite nice to drift of to sleep to, maybe. What a shame for the author – it sounds like she is quite dilligent and talented, maybe ghost stories are not her ideal genre.

    • Haha! Short though it was I did indeed drift off to sleep a couple of times – without intending to! She’s supposed to be great at them – she’s the woman who wrote The Woman in Black, though I must admit I didn’t find it terribly scary either when I saw the play. Haven’t read it though, or seen the film. But a few reviews suggest this one isn’t her best…

      • Well, I suppose everyone is allowed an off day! Maybe she writes horror for wusses, in which case that’s okay. I shall keep in mind for when I can’t sleep 🙂

        • Hehe, I like the idea of horror for wusses – I could probably write that. And love stories for unromantics. Action thrillers for the lazy… I feel a new career coming on!

            • I have a TBW list, it isn’t that much fun – it sort of lurks in the corner and looks at me resentfully. But do give it a go – I reckon you’d be a great writer!

            • We should pair it off with my TBR list – then we can skip lightly off to watch a film! Awww, thanks! I’m just waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve been waiting since I was 12… 😉

            • Good plan! I will bring wine. The inspiration will strike when you least expect it! But it will, I have no doubt. I am particularly looking forward to the action story for lazy people 😀

  3. A good Victorian ghost story can be deliciously chilling, FictionFan. But as you say, it needs an element of surprise and the unexpected. So I can see why you found this one too bland. The premise isn’t bad, if it’s spiced up and made intriguing, though. And I respect any attempt to get things right and authentic.

    • Yes, I’m a big fan of the traditional style ghost story, but despite the good writing and authentic feel, this one just didn’t achieve the thrill factor. It’s hard to come up with a new twist on such a well-used storyline, I suppose, but without one the story seemed a bit pointless, sadly.

  4. How sad. I love me some ghost story, but I always look for the cold hand on the back of my neck for the fun. It sounds like a politician. They talk a good story but it always ends in disappointment.

  5. Oh what a shame. Woman in Black is I think truly scary, which is why it got picked up on and made into a chilling theatre piece (and, much later, a film)

    I’m so very sad this didn’t prove to be an inexpensive method of perming your hair into the Elsa Lanchester look. And you do have a wicked way with a telling image. Is it at least a well-risen jamless sponge, or is it one of those out of your own fair baking kind? (I’m only being unkind about previous baking experiences you’ve recounted)

    • I haven’t read Woman in Black or seen the film, but to be hinest I was fairly underwhelmed by the theatre version. However I put that down to its longevity – it had already been running for years at that point and everything felt tired – the cast, the production, even the poor usher who’d probably seen it a thousand times by then.

      *gasps* So rude! Though I admit I was wishing I’d taken a picture of my Devonshire Honey Cake disaster(s) as it would have been the perfect illustration…

  6. I feel I have read this story…. several times actually, and with no new twist, I think I’ll watch tennis instead.

  7. Well, just RATS!! Nothing better than a good ghostie story, but you’re right — one needs unpredictability, twists, and a spot of humor to keep me reading. Still, what an interesting premise, huh??

    • Yes, I felt it was a great idea, and well-written but… just didn’t give me that scare factor! Still, on the upside, no gore! It just needed a little something extra…

    • I know. It might have worked better if it was shorter – the earlier bits were more chilling, but the end just dragged on without anything much happening…

  8. Oh dear – sorry to hear that there was no tingle in your spine when listening to this one – just about the right length to bake a Victoria Sponge cake as well! I’m not into ghost stories anyway but I do like Susan Hill’s writing and kicking myself for not reading her Simon Serrailler series in order.

    • I hadn’t made the connection that she was the same author for some reason. I must try one of the Serrailler series sometime – but not this summer! I really have an urgent desire to eat cake now though…

  9. I love your recipe! And even I, no lover of crime and horror, have read this basic story at least once, in an unpleasant and rather creepy Virago novel whose title I have now forgotten. A good, clear-sighted review, though.

    • Thank you! Yes, it must be hard to find a new angle for horror, but this one seemed very familiar – from Frankenstein on. And not different enough to make it stand out from the crowd.

  10. I saw the play “The Woman in Black,” though I am not sure it was the same one you saw. When I read a bit about the movie with that name, it sounded different, but maybe it was just more fleshed out, as it were. The play I saw was suitably scary, though it was mostly because of special effects; turning all the lights off, creaking noises. One kept waiting for something truly horrifying to be shown, but there really wasn’t, just the suggestions of it. It was well done, though not quite as scary as it purported to be.

    It is hard to write a really good horror novel. It has seemed to me that the best horror is usually found in shorter fiction; I have read a number of horror anthologies (dark fantasy, they like to call it), but I don’t often find a great novel of that type. However, you have read more of them than I, so your recommendations are very helpful. The best horror novel I have ever read was Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story.” If you have not read that, you should put it high on your TBR list, as I think you definitely would like it. Really well written, literate, and very engrossing. I was two-thirds of the way through the book, and still did not quite know what was going on. And even when the strands were pulled together, the excellent writing kept it suspenseful all the way through. Second on my small list might well be “The Monk,” a legitimately unsettling 19th century gothic tale. “Turn of the Screw” would certainly be right there, although it is considered a novella.

    • I haven’t read much horror really – on the whole, I find written horror pretty unscary, with a few honourable exceptions. Over the last year or so, I’ve been reading lots of short stories, mostly classics, to try to find some scary ones. While I’ve enjoyed many of them, only a few have really given me that nice shiver of the spine. But I don’t mind if they’re not scary so long as there’s something else to hook me – either a strong ethical dimensional or some nice black humour. This one, I’m afraid, didn’t have any of the above. I suspect it would have been the same play that we saw – it’s been a huge success and is still running after decades in London, though I couldn’t quite see why. But then I feel that way about The Mousetrap too – sometimes plays become famous for being long-running rather than for being good…

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