Although I’m not traditionally a fan of ghost stories, what with being a susceptible fool who is easily spooked, I ended up reading Tiffany Murray’s latest novel Sugar Hall in almost a day… as I just couldn’t put it down.
Loosely based on the spooky Littledean Hall near the Forest of Dean, the Sugar Hall of the title is a grandly imposing, and reputedly ugly, old stately home built by the fortunes of the Sugar family – who made their money via the equally ugly businesses of sugar trading and slave purchasing. With centuries of grisly stories embedded in its walls and surrounding woodland, the latest inhabitants of the Hall are Lilia Sugar and her two children Saskia and Dieter.
Lilia is the widowed wife of Peter Sugar, who was the final surviving descent of the Sugar family. As such, their young son Dieter Sugar is now the only living heir to the crumbling Sugar empire. Lilia and her children have inherited the freezing Hall in Peter’s will, and with fate not on their side, they’re forced to up sticks from their cosy London flat and move down to the chilly, alienating old house to see if they can make it home.
Despite warnings from various locals who know the hold the Hall has over the Sugar sons… and despite the chilling stories Dieter tells her of the boy with the silver collar who he finds around the place… Saskia militantly remains rooted to the Hall, trying her best to make it work for her two children.
But as the months pass, creepy event after spooky encounter stack up… and everything comes to a head.
Tiffany Murray’s writing style is engaging, and after only two or three chapters I was gripped and literally couldn’t put the book down all day, not until I had found out how it all worked out. She paints such a vivid description of the hideous Hall and its world that I was desperate to see a real picture for myself, to see if the image I’d painted in my head matched the actual Hall. But it is her creation of the manipulative and sad slave boy, who himself suffered at the hands of a former Sugar master, that is truly at the heart of Sugar Hall.
Sugar Hall is up there with Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat as one of the two finest contemporary ghost stories I’ve read in recent years.