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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Hooke

Review of 'The Poisoned House: A Ghost Story'

By Michael Ford, 2010, Albert Whitman & Company, Paranormal, Ghosts, Mystery

Rating: 👻👻👻 (3 out of 4 boos)

What is the book about?

“Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. The widowed master of the house is slowly slipping into madness, and the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs. Cotton, punishes Abi without mercy. But there's something else going on in Greave Hall, too. An otherworldly presence is making itself known, and a deadly secret will reveal itself — a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.”

What’s the main character like?

Scullery maid Abi Tamper has some guts! The book starts right away with her committing a huge act of defiance and sticking up for herself. The reader gets to see many sides of her. She’s a hard-worker (if only the ghosts would stop leaving handprints on the windows and getting her in trouble…), she’s clever, she’s humble, and she’s a good friend. Okay, so she might come across as whiny: in her first-person narration, she grumbles quite often about her circumstances. But who wouldn’t? The housekeeper Mrs. Cotton treats her terribly.

How scary is it?

While I wouldn’t call this book very scary now, I think if I had read it in middle-school, it would have made me afraid to go to sleep. And that’s no insult. Ghost stories don’t have to terrorize you. The Poisoned House is more mystery than horror, so Ford has done his job well in maintaining an enigmatic mood. He includes just enough scary elements to make you ponder how you might behave if you were in Abi’s situation, and the scenes with ghostly encounters are sensory-based and engaging.

Who might like this book?

Looking for a ghost story on the lighter side? Check out The Poisoned House. It won’t scare you silly, but it will entertain you. Do you like old haunted-house movies like The Uninvited? Check out The Poisoned House. It’s sinister, but it won’t scar you with a downpour of paralyzing evil.

What did I like best?

I’m a sucker for the trappings of old-fashioned ghost stories. The Poisoned House features several: a creepy and oppressive house, ghostly handprints on windows, a spirit medium, a Ouija cloth (Instead of a Ouija board! I love it!), and hints of foul play.

What wasn't my favorite?

The setting of this book is fairly one-note. Abi is a scullery maid, so her excursions beyond Greave Hall (her so-called “prison”) are very limited. But is this a flaw? Sure, I find myself having a difficult time recalling the scenes with pinpoint-accuracy because they blur together a bit. But perhaps this was Ford’s intention. The limited nature of the setting captures something about Abi’s experience. I empathize with her more because she’s literally trapped, a victim of waking “at the same time every day,” having to manage “boring daily routine(s),” and suffering the housekeeper Mrs. Cotton’s cruelty.

What was my personal experience reading this book?

I read The Poisoned House in small chunks before going to sleep. It’s a perfect nighttime read, oddly relaxing with its soft spookiness.

What are some things you love to see popup in old-fashioned (or even modern) ghost stories?

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