The Ghost It Was

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Pub Date 4 Oct 2018 | Archive Date 30 Oct 2020

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Description

He seemed as if he might be interesting. People with no morals often are, and someone who makes no pretence of having any always is.

A convert to the recent fad of ‘spiritualism’, James Warrenton purchases the old, and purportedly haunted, Amberhurst Place. A cantankerous, yet easily amused, old man, he has far too many nephews, and far too much time.

Suspecting his family of only ever wanting his fortune, James strikes up a bet for his own entertainment with his nephews on the existence of ghosts.

Desperate to get into their uncle’s good graces, or at least not irritate him further, his four nephews vie for the place as prime heir to James’ estate.

Snide comments and ruthless remarks volley around Amberhurst, but when a harmless prank turns deadly, everyone is a suspect – even the ghost.


The Ghost It Was was first published in 1936.

He seemed as if he might be interesting. People with no morals often are, and someone who makes no pretence of having any always is.

A convert to the recent fad of ‘spiritualism’, James Warrenton...


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Featured Reviews

Eccentric and annoying wealthy old man who has recently become a spiritualism enthusiast gathers his family, including his scheming nephews, around him - what could possibly go wrong? Full of Hull’s characteristic wit and humor and a cast of colorful characters, a very enjoyable read. It’s a tad slow before anyone dies, but becomes quite riveting thereafter.

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A winning combination! Black comedy, unpleasant and acquisitive relations, a rich elderly uncle, hidden treasure, a ghost, a mysterious tower, spiritualism… what more could a fan of Golden Age detection wish for? The writing, characterisation and plotting are all top notch and Hull is one of the few 1930’s writers whose dialogue does not seem dated. This is very readable, most enjoyable and highly recommended. Thank you to NetGalley and Agora Books for the digital review copy.

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Agora offered me this as an ARC and, being a fan of RIchard Hull I couldn't resist - he's a totally underrated author! I will not offer my own synopsis since Amazon's is quite adequate, any more giving away spoilers. The 'hero', Gregory Spring-Benson (what a name!) is a total dilettante who it seems impossible not to like - his unashamed greed and contempt towards his rich uncle compare quite favourably with the other four insipid nephews and nieces in the house. That's what I really like about Hull: his characters are always just that little bit overdrawn - not enough to be caricatures but enough to mutter "Oh really?" - - or "Oh really!" As to the plot and the ending - very cleverly disguised! In retrospect the culprit is both clearly obvious and yet practically impossible - Hull just about plays fair with his readers but an AWFUL lot of explaining by the detectives in the last chapter is needed to convince the reader that the 'contrivances' were reasonable, including harking back to the sixteenth century!! But overall a rollicking good read - chuckles galore at the antics of the background characters, (including the mysterious butler!) and a well-paced gallop - not too many red herrings, but those there are stood on their heads by the author! By no means light-hearted but still excellent fun - as Hull always seems to be. Recommended.

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The country house murder mystery novel has a long tradition and perhaps reached its zenith in the 1930's with such writers as Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Mary Allingham and of course Agatha Christie. These stories normally have a few set components, a country house in a remote setting, the persons involved are commonly from the upper or upper middle classes and are far from sympathetic in character some hiding deep secrets, a murder is committed with a large number of suspects, there may be a will involved, there could also be a supernatural element, a storm usually ensues and of course the domestic staff may not be entirely trustworthy. These elements are all to be found in Richard Hull's "The Ghost It Was" which is a wonderfully acerbic and entertaining addition to this genre that was first published in 1936. Hull real name (Richard Henry Sampson) was a British crime novelist who's 15 published novels covered a period from 1934 until 1953 and although he ceased to write fiction after 1953 it is interesting to note that after this he continued to play a part in the Detection Club (still in existence) assisting the then President , one Agatha Christie. The plot of "The Ghost It Was" concerns the rakish Gregory Spring-Benson's visit to his cantankerous uncle James Warrenton's recently acquired country house Amberhurst Place where he quite openly and unapologetically hopes to ingratiate himself with rich the old man for financial gain. This puts him into competition with the rather unimpressive other four nephews and nieces in the house. Now Amberhurst Place has a legend dating back from Tudor days that it is haunted by a spectral ghost and Jame's belief in the then popular concept of spiritualism will lead to a sequence of events that will lead to at least one violent death. This is a real period piece and is full of snide remarks concerning such subjects as journalists and trade unions. Like all good who done it stories I personally was unaware of the culprit until they are unmasked. A clever piece of writing indeed. I must admit that I was not previously aware of Richard Hull but will now be tempted to seek out more of his work. I believe that "The Murder of My Aunt " is a good place to start.

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Is there a more dysfunctional group than the Warrenton family? They are hateful, hurtful, lazy, and scheming. Warrenton is a wealthy man surrounded by family who want his money. He knows this, and plans to leave his money to Spiritualists, but not before he entertains himself by bullying everyone. Toss in a purported ghost and missing jewels, and the scene is set for murder--unfortunately only two of them are killed. Be patient with this book and you'll be rewarded, it starts a bit slow but gains momentum as the story progresses.

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A clever, classic mystery. An unpleasant man with four nephews and one niece. Two nephews reside with their mother in the village; one nephew and the niece live with their uncle; and the fourth nephew insinuates himself into the household. Uncle James is wealthy, deaf, and has recently bought a home called Amberhurst which is supposed to be haunted. And he has an interest in spiritualism. All the ingredients for murder: greedy relatives, isolated setting, old house, and ghosts. Good characterization; nice setting; excellent puzzle. All the hallmarks of a good mystery. What more could a fan of golden age fiction want?

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I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. I’m a fan of vintage “country house” mysteries but I just can’t get into ghosts, so I was a bit hesitant about this book. However, since I had read and enjoyed another mystery by Richard Hull, I decided to take a chance, and I’m glad that I did. I thought this book started out a bit slowly, but once the action started, it picked up. The story is well plotted, with some subtle humor. The characters in this novel seemed just the tiniest bit over the top, not enough to be unbelievable, but enough to make each one distinct. I suspected fairly early on in this book who was guilty, (although my suspect seemed impossible), but I wasn’t absolutely sure because I never actually figured out how or why until it was finally explained to me in the last part of the book. I think this book is a fairly classic example of the old fashioned country house mystery, and readers who enjoy vintage mysteries will enjoy this one. I know that I did!

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I wasn't entirely sure to start with whether I was going to enjoy this book when I saw that it had been written and published in 1930's but it was really good!  I actually quite enjoyed the way it was written. This seems to me to be a classic murder mystery.  James Warrenton buys a big house which is supposed to have a ghost.  His nephews aren't particularly believers and are actually only interested in getting all or, at the very least, a piece of his estate.  Being newly into spiritualism, James puts a bet on with his nephews about the ghost, which leads to a prank that goes very wrong..... There are quite a few characters in the story so at times I had to stop and think about who was who (but that's down to my own concentration levels!) but I really enjoyed working through, with the police, who the murderer might have been and if it really was the 'ghost'! The only thing I will say is that the ending isn't particularly solid and I think, can leave the conclusion somewhat open to interpretation...... Overall though I really enjoyed this and will definitely give this a re-read at some point in the future.  I'll also be looking for his other books!

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A book written in the Golden Age era, with murders, family money, and even a ghost story, with a hint of a "locked room" mystery. I found the story quite good, it moved along nicely with lots of red herrings and unlikable characters, but it was fun. The ending was a little convoluted but with a nice twist. Most people who like books of this era will enjoy it.

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“Fiddlesticks,” says one of the unloveable characters in this charming you will never guess who did it old-fashioned, well-written mystery story. Almost everyone wants the disagreeable old man’s money. Unwanted ghosts and guests wander around the house. And where did the missing lard go? And who is that spiritualist fellow? I was thoroughly surprised when the author of the attacks was revealed. Great fun.

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Richard Hull always paints an intricate scene through dialogue and small details. I didn't want this story to end as each of the characters was very human and, although some were more irritating than others, each was easy to identify. Rich obnoxious uncle surrounded by hopeful nephews and a not-so-hopeful niece. Throw in some very British characters, some ghosts and legends and the promise of riches and it makes for a very satisfying yarn.

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A classic murder mystery, brought to new life with a sassy new cover. A mansion in the country, a ghost story, a colourful cast of eccentric characters, a Scotland Yard detective in disguise and a couple of murders - what do you want more? Very enjoyable!

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Another excellent novel from Richard Hull. Oh, how I wish I’d heard of him years ago! I really enjoyed this book. The novel starts off with Gregory Spring-Benson trying to persuade a deputy assistant sub-editor (I’m not familiar with the hierarchies within a newspaper, but that does sound rather junior!) to give him a job. The meeting ends acrimoniously, due to Gregory’s innate rudeness. He spots an article in a newspaper, stating that his uncle has taken a mansion in Amberhurst, and decides to see if he can build the events up into a better piece. He goes down to the village and wheedles his way into his uncle’s house. From that point onwards, he ceases to be the focus of the narrative and becomes one of several players in the plot. The book is typical of Richard Hull: it has an enormous amount of humour, much of which stems from Gregory’s unbelievable rudeness and his attempts to evade a gamekeeper. He says the things that one might think but never say out loud. We also have Aunt Julia, who has an almost Holmes-like ability to sense what people are thinking and then reply to their unspoken thoughts. There are various other well-written characters, almost stereotypes in novels like this, written in 1936. We have a butler who migrates from posh to Cockney when provoked; we have the put-upon niece, who appears scared of her own shadow; we have the tyrannical (deaf) uncle. Again, typical of the Richard Hull novels that I’ve read, the mystery is second to the humour. It’s a whodunnit and we don’t find out “who” until the last few pages, although the range of suspects does get narrowed down through the book. As I say, I loved the book but the loss of focus upon Gregory after a couple of chapters confused me and I thought the last chapter, where two policemen reminisce about the outcome rather than us reading about it as it unfolds, was a bit of an anti-climax. Now I know what to expect, I suspect it will even more rewarding upon a second reading. I recommend this book without reservation – do read it and also read any other Richard Hull books you can get your hands on... #TheGhostItWas #NetGalley

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Classic elegant crime/mystery story. The characters are beautifully drawn, the plot is complex and intriguing, the prose witty and satisfying. To quote: "Not a well-conceived crime really you know " - but certainly a well-conceived story.

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I read other books by this writer and always found them highly enjoyable and amusing. This one was no exception. The characters are not likeable but are really funny, with a sort of anti hero as main character. It was a lot of fun to read this book that aged very well. I hope there will be soon other books by Richard Hull as they are so good. Highly recommended! Many thanks to Agora Books and Netgalley for this ARC

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James Warrenton has converted to spiritulism after buying a haunted house, Amberhurst Place. He has no family of his own but is surrounded by nieces and nephews, some of whom live with and work for him. All his family are after his fortune and so James for amusement strikes up a bet with them on the existence of ghosts. An article has appeared in The New Light about Amberhurst Place and Gregory Spring-Benson, a nephew of James, wants to become a reporter so goes down to his uncles place and jumps over the wall as the place is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. Security catch him and bring him to his uncle who invites him to stay. Gregory plays along with the ghost story to ingratiate himself with his uncle and get included in his will. The other nephews do not like this and one of them Arthur comes up with a plan along with the curate to re-enact the old ghost story. Unfortunately they re-enact it too well and Arthur dies. Later still another death occurs and Fenby from Scotland Yard has to unmask the culprit. The story was very slow to get going, more than half of it was taken up with the undercurrents between the family and the nephews trying to out do each other to inherit from James. It was a relief when someone actually died and it became a murder mystery. James locked everyone in their rooms after Arthurs inquest and next he is dead himself but who did it? The killer was announced and the story finished all in one chapter which was a little too neat and rushed in my opinion. It is the third novel by Richard Hull I have read and although I enjoyed it I felt it could have been so much better if the action happened sooner and the killer being found out was fleshed out more. I found Keep It Quiet by this author so much better and demonstrates his writing ability much better.

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snarky, sly-humor, murder, family-dynamics, ghosts, law-enforcement More fun than the usual country house mystery and more suspects than you could shake a will at! The publisher's blurb is a pretty good hook and the characters certainly are, but I found it a really interesting read and a look back in time. Liked the Scotland Yard detective, too! I requested and received a free ebook copy from Agora Books via NetGalley. Thank you!

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I loved this book. It was my first "Richard Hull read" and I will be looking for more titles from this author. The rich uncle has become a convert to "Spiritualism" and his four nephews, most of whom hate each other, are plotting in their own individual ways to separate Uncle from his fortunate. Only one nephew is quite open and above-board about his aims. The story has a great plot with many twists and turns and you are never really sure who did what. Not only will I read other titles by this author, I will re-read this book again!!!

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Although I thoroughly enjoyed this novel I found it very trying at times with all the characters involved, it didn't help that at times certain characters were being called both by their surname and Christian names as in the case of Henry Malcolm. The novel starts in London where we hear of an idea by Gregory Spring-Benson to become a journalist even though he has no training or the vocation for the role. He is eventually asked to leave by the Editor and on his way home he picks up a copy of the newspaper and reads an article which leads him to go to his estranged uncle. The article involved a ghost story which he thought he could manipulate to his own ends.

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Thanks to Agora books for a review copy. This is the third novel by Richard Hull which I have read and I am warming to him as an author. This novel is an enjoyable and humorous example of a Golden Age character study with an added puzzle however, as with the Hull's novels which I have read previously, I found that he has a talent for making practically all of the major characters deeply flawed and unlikeable. Though this may be a fairly accurate portrayal of reality we come to these tales for a bit of escapism and it would be nice to have at least one character we could be cheering on, even if they turned out to be the villain in the end. The story revolves around an idle young man called Gregory Spring-Benson who decides to undertake a career as a journalist in the mistaken belief that it will involve no work. To this end he persuades a reluctant editor to let him go to visit his estranged uncle in his newly purchased 'haunted' home and get a story. His motive, in reality, and which he freely admits himself is to obtain from said uncle as much money as possible by fair means or foul. Other nephews and a niece have the same idea and view the newcomer with a mixture of suspicion and distaste. The first half of the book is concerned with setting up the story and showing how the characters interact with each other. The house is supposedly haunted and Uncle James (another deeply unpleasant individual) has developed an interest in spiritualism and is hoping to contact the ghost. All sorts of plotting among the various characters follows resulting in two deaths. At this point Scotland Yard become involved and before long all is revealed. Personally I prefer the puzzle element of this type of novel whereas this is more a period character piece with a puzzle tagged on. To me the crime and it's resolution felt rushed and therefore somewhat unsatisfactory. By the time the bodies started to appear I had developed such a deep dislike for most of the people that I was quite happy to see some of them bumped off... That being said the characters are well written and the story is kept moving along. Personally I would have preferred to come into the tale a bit later and had the Scotland Yard men's part more developed. It was however a compulsive read and the most enjoyable of Mr Hull's books that I have read to date.

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I enjoy classic mysteries and this is quite good. As many of the books from England in this time period, there is a lot of set up and many characters. In this one, the interchange of first and last names was confusing for awhile, but I eventually got it. Surprised by who done it. I received an advance reader copy from Crime Classics. Highly recommend.

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Well, I never! The audacity of Richard Hull is unprecedented, in my experience, in at least one particular of this book. In truth, many elements are as one might expect from a classic British mystery story. There is the ancient, semi-ruined house, Amberhurst Place, occupied by an elderly rich curmudgeon, James Warrenton. James has an assortment of relatives, including four nephews; all the family live in hope of gaining an enhanced life style by eventually gaining some of James' wealth. The assortment of family members is varied; few are noteworthy for their admirable qualities. There are also, of course, the enigmatic butler, the family solicitor, and others whose identities and purposes unfold with the story James may be a bit prickly, but he is entertained by his family’s efforts, and he decides to host the entire group for a ghost-hunting expedition. We are escorted on a tour of this family event through the calculating eyes of one of the nephews, Gregory Spring-Benson. Gregory is supremely self-centered, and aspires to the good life for himself with as little time and effort as possible. Inheriting a significant portion of James’ wealth is Gregory’s primary ambition. Hull leads us through the twists and turns of the plot and with growing insights into the various characters. All in all, it unfolds in satisfactory good form. So where is the audacity? Simply this: events occur, murders happen, the murders are solved, the guilty tried and convicted, and we receive a tidy exposition of how it all came about, and all is well. But nowhere does Hull give us the NAME of the guilty party. We are left to decipher the solution from the final chapter. So who is it? Since Hull didn’t tell you, I won’t either. You will have to read the book!

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This book was the Crime Classics Club pick for October. I’ve enjoyed Richard Hull’s offbeat mysteries and think they’re well worth reviving. ‘The Ghost it Was’ begins too slowly for me. Half way through the book before there’s a body! The first half of the book is taken up with family politics, which are somewhat confusing. James Warrenton, an irascible, wealthy old man lives in an allegedly haunted house and has become interested in the paranormal. He has a niece and a number of nephews, some living with him, some nearby and all but one anxious to inherit. Heated arguments take place as to the existence or not of the Amberhurst ghost. When a death does take place no one is sure if it was an accident or murder. If the latter, could the victim have been killed by a ghost? Things really pick up in the second half of the book with the arrival of Scotland Yard and the last chapter is a tease, leaving the reader in doubt about the culprit (among so many suspects) until the very end. Good stuff.

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Richard Hull wrote one of my favourite books - The Murder Of My Aunt, and The Ghost It Was is another great example of his work. Hull was remarkable in being able to construct characters who are singularly unlikable, and yet you still want to keep reading. His sly humour and the puzzle structure of the plot makes this a wonderfully engrossing read. There is a 'locked room' element to this story, and even if you do guess who the criminal is, you still want to know how on earth they did it. I highly recommend this book, especially those who think that golden age detective fiction is all twee and cosy,

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A family that's a "little peculiar" author's words, who inhabit this golden age mystery. The inhabitants include a crusty, wealthy uncle who has purchased an allegedly haunted house and his niece and nephews who each feels entitled to be the sole beneficiary of uncle's money. After the death of one of the nephews an inspector from Scotland Yard arrives, was it murder or what. The inspector's entrance is as an expert from Departed Spirits Assn, the author describes his appearance as resembling a foot stool. There's also a butler who goes around banging on walls and getting dusty looking for hidden gems. I wish the author had written a more complete ending, it seemed a little rushed but overall a gem of a read.

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The novel starts by introducing us to Spring-Benson an Amoral lazy money grabbing and at first glance thoroughly unlikeable character ,however from trying to get a job for which he is completely unsuitable as a journalist he comes across news that a rich uncle has taken over a large estate .He makes up his mind to visit initially with the intention of getting the full story to enable him to get the job,however this is soon ditched by his stated intention to swindle as much money as possible from his uncle.This intention expressed at dinner with his uncle and cousins and its this sort of bare faced dishonesty which seems to have a charm of its own especially against the more ingratiating attitudes of some of his cousins. Spring-Benson then merges into the family as they all try to put themselves in pole position as they try to get into pole position to inherit their uncles wealth. Then things start to get strange.Uncle James is into spiritualism and the old tales of his house being haunted are welcomed by him One of his nephews determined to show him up stages an appearance of the ghost but all goes badly wrong when he falls from the roof,Did he fall or was he pushed ? the story really picks up pace from now,the appearance of a little man from a spiritualist society allies himself to uncle James but his exposure as a fraud presages another death. Without giving anything away there are now revelations and actions that change everything and everything is explained at the end. A typical Hull novel,a group of mostly fairly unlikeable characters who are described in Hulls humerus but incisive writing .I felt the ending was a bit rushed in someways but not overly so and I did find it a very enjoyable lead

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This was my first Richard Hull book; it was thoroughly enjoyable. He immediately engages the reader with a diverse array of thoroughly unlikeable characters, all plotting to get Uncle's money. The plot moved steadily and keeps one guessing. A good read for lovers of this genre.

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