British author Susan Hill has been a professional writer for over fifty years and knows what frightens readers, her books ranging from psychological horror to out and out terror. Her most famous work, The Woman in Black, not only was made into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe, but the stage version has been performed in London since 1988.
The novella The Mist in the Mirror was originally written in 1992 and is now enjoying a re-release as a “Vintage books original.” Being such a short read, it is difficult to examine all of the plot elements for fear of giving away vital details that are necessary to keep the tension high and the surprises profound. That being said, this novella is nowhere near her classic The Woman in Black and does not have the horror elements of last years' The Small Hand and Dolly, but it is an effective psychological horror story with all of the classic elements one would expect from a work of Gothic fiction.
A nameless narrator opens the novel and shows his intrigue for a fellow club member named James Monmouth. It turns out Monmouth has a deep, dark secret that can be explained by reading his manuscript. The rest of the novel focuses on the retelling of this manuscript. Monmouth was orphaned at a young age and became a global traveler, enjoying the excitement of exotic locations.
When Monmouth settles down in London, he decides to pursue the exploration of his personal hero, another itinerant traveler by the name of Conrad Vane. For some reason, everyone Monmouth speaks to about Vane warns him off seeking out further details. The adventurous Monmouth is not deterred and actually becomes more intrigued. As he digs deeper, he finds that Vane had a dark past that allegedly involved voodoo and black magic.
All the while, Monmouth is haunted by images of a young boy following him around as well as crying in the night. He also comes across a strange mirror in a former abode of Vane's that instantly mists up when he tries to see into it. What unsettles Monmouth the most is when his own family name comes up in the research into Vane's past. It seems that his ancestors may have been linked in some way to Vane and that his curious urge to investigate Vane may have been preordained.
Again, not the thrills and chills you might expect from a horror novel, but a worthy gothic tale that is a throwback to the storytelling of Poe and Ambrose Bierce which will surely please those readers who long to escape into this genre of novel.