Since it’s October and traditionally the month we all read scary stuff, I thought I’d give The Small Hand a whirl. After all, it’s subtitled A Ghost Story and comes from the pen of the woman who gave us The Woman In Black, whose reputation most definitely precedes it.
Like all good scary stories, it’s simple and straightforward with a premise that will make you clutch at pearls. One evening, Adam Snow gets lost on a drive home from a business meeting. He finds himself outside a derelict house, The White House and while he is standing and looking at it, he feels a small, icy cold, ghostly hand take his own. Of course, there’s nothing there. Seriously, just reading that synopsis almost had me running screaming from the room. But the book itself doesn’t quite live up to its initial promise.
The main problem is that as it’s such a simple story, it can’t really be an overly lengthy one. This feels like a long short story that her editor said “Susan, why don’t you try and pad it out a bit and publish it as a short novel?” Most of the padding revolves around Snow’s job as a private dealer in rare and antique books, none of it is particularly interesting, nor is it relevant to the story. So the creeping horror leeches out of the pages every so often. Maybe Hill was thinking readers would be unnerved enough to be on edge that the little hand could re-emerge at any point. I just kept thinking “I don’t care about First Folios, JUST GET ON WITH IT” and that is not quite the same thing.
The other problem is that all the revelations that come tumbling out in the final pages aren’t particularly surprising or frightening. It’s something you can see coming from pretty early on, and it’s relayed to the reader in a somewhat hackneyed fashion to boot. This is a definite case of an excellent idea being hamstrung by its execution.