The Ghost It Was by Richard Hull (1936)

Gregory Spring-Benson is a young man of “perfect idleness” without the means of paying his creditors or continuing to meet his expensive tastes. An offer of his services to the deputy sub-assistant editor of The New Light newspaper is rebuffed. Although, if he happens to have any ideas, he should send them along and the editor will read them.

The opportunity arises when Gregory sees a badly written article about the new tenant of Amberhurst Place, James Warrenton, who it turns out is Gregory’s uncle—his rich uncle. But he’s also an estranged uncle. But Gregory is undeterred, because there’s just a chance of a story to start off his journalistic career, and maybe also a chance of a monetary reward from that rich uncle. 

Gregory inveigles his way in, and finds he isn’t the only one with a plan. There are several more family members on the spot, namely four cousins and an aunt. Cousin Henry is James’ secretary, and very quarrelsome. His sister, the quiet Emily is James’ dogs body. Then there is James’ sister, the stoic Aunt Julia, who lives nearby with her sons, Arthur, a fussy lawyer, and poet Christopher.

Uncle James is a recent convert to spiritualism and his reason for buying Amberhurst Place is the ghost it apparently comes with. The cousins aren’t particularly believers, but see James’ interest as a means of getting a piece of his estate. Soon thereafter, the ghost who apparently haunts the tower makes its presence known. But on second appearance, has a deadlier result. 

As usual with a story by Hull, there is much to recommend here. There is an intriguing premise, and a plot that moves smoothly although murder does not occur until about 100 pages in. But that time is well spent, as Hull uses it to create some wonderful characterizations. Gregory Spring-Benson, is a mix of careless underachiever and devious schemer, James Warrenton, a combination of stubborn irascibility and gullibility, and Aunt Julia may have a small role in the tale, but her perceptive mind and offbeat attitude make for an engaging character.

The writing is darkly comedic and entertaining, filled with Hull’s branded mix of dysfunctional characters, snarky comments, and dry wit. Once the mystery starts rolling, we are presented with two impossible crimes. It’s not very hard to figure out who the culprit is, but the solution is as to how the murders were done, while actually simple, was pretty neat. 

But then comes the problem of how Hull chose to handle the identity of the murderer, or rather not handle the identity. Even knowing in my soul who it was, it did leave me feeling rather cheated. I’m not sure what Hull was trying to accomplish here—an inversion of a non-inverted mystery?? 

All things considered though, even with the let down at the end (hence my lower rating), this was an enjoyable read.

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Prior Rulings – John @ Pretty Sinister Books, TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories – # 21 Things That Go Bump in the Night

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