When recovering alcoholic Simon Fox comes out of rehab, he has nothing. A building collapse has left his reputation as an architect in tatters, his wife has thrown him out and his family are estranged. Then along comes old school pal Alexander Everett-Heath who invites Simon to join him at his old country house Abbot’s Keep.
Now Abbot’s Keep has a secret. It was formerly the home of the leader of a monastic order founded by Abbot Milroy, a shady churchman who made a fortune out of selling stolen holy relics. Life was sweet for Milroy until Henry VIII decided to break with Rome and help himself to the Catholic Church’s estates and rumour has it that Milroy had hidden a fortune in gold somewhere on the estate.
Everett-Heath has to go off on business and leaves Fox in charge of his dog, a metal detector and a cellar full of vintage wine. What could possibly go wrong?
Benedict Ashforth’s novella is written as a series of letters between Simon Fox and his estranged brother Clifford, in much the same sort of style that Bram Stoker used so successfully in Dracula, but Abbot’s Keep is far more reminiscent of the ghost stories of MR James and there is nothing wrong with that in my book. We have the familiar tropes of a James story: everyone is comfortably middle class, country house, some dark clerical history and then the horror and suspense starts to be ratcheted up and then gradually builds up speed until the protagonists are overwhelmed in a crescendo of malevolent and inevitable evil.
A really entertaining read with a delightful frisson of fear, I give Abbot’s Keep a 555/666.
Abbot’s Keep is out now as an e-book and a real book.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.