Sir James Monmouth returns from 35 years abroad to England, the land of his birth, which he left when he was five. He starts to research the life of Conrad Vane, an explorer whom he had admired and emulated, but finds himself haunted by strange phenomena, in particular the ghost of a small boy. Moreover, those people whom he approaches seem intent on dissuading him from his research. He learns of a surviving relative and goes to visit her at his ancestral home, realising finally the connections between all that has happened to him.
As a ghost story, it lacks a certain something: the tension is never quite there and the aspects of mystery and family secrets are not really gripping, nor, at the denouement, explained particularly well. However, it remains an enjoyable and readable book, if only as the story of a man who has spent most of his life in the east and who returns to his native England. The atmosphere of melancholy, of cheerful friendship with a family who befriends him, the descriptions of the weather and of the surroundings, all leave an agreeable feeling, enhanced by the mysterious elements which would not stand up on their own.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.