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Literature / The Secret Of Crickley Hall

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A 2006 novel by James Herbert. Almost a year following the disappearance of Cam, their five-year-old son, Gabe and Eve Caleigh take their two daughters, twelve-year-old Loren and five-year-old Cally, with Chester, their dog, for a much-needed change of scene at Crickley Hall, a semi-stately house just outside the Devonshire village of Hollow Bay. Save for perplexing noises and occasionally glimpsed "white shadows" the Caleighs begin to comfortably adjust to village life. On discovery of old-fashioned children’s toys locked away in the attic, kindly old caretaker Percy Judd reveals that wartime evacuees stationed at Crickley Hall were apparently drowned by a 1943 flood, before suffering under the brutal discipline of brother and sister Augustus and Magda Cribben. A semi-conscious encounter with a familiar-seeming indistinct child-like figure persuades Eve that Cal may still be alive and trying to psychically contact her. Meanwhile, traumatised local psychic Lili Peel attests a malign presence to lurk within the house...


In 2012, the book was adapted for BBC One into a three part series, written and directed by Joe Ahearne, perhaps best known for his prolific Doctor Who direction. Bar regional relocation and some minor variations in plot and characterisation, it was faithful to the novel, and was praised by Herbert.

The 2006 novel provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The Caleighs are grief-stricken over the unexplained disappearance of Cam, their five-year-old son. His body is eventually found.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Stated by Lili Peel to happen to departed spirits. Later seen to happen to Nancy and the evacuees.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: After verbally and physically abusing Loren, Seraphina empties the bag of Loren's new friend Tessa onto the floor of the school bus. Loren punches Seraphina on the nose, and is as surprised as anyone.
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  • Blitz Evacuees: Several were billeted to Crickley Hall.
  • The Cavalry: The ghost of Nancy Linnet, the evacuees' kindly young tutor.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Whereas the ghost of Nancy appears to most as a decomposing corpse, her old love Percy sees her as her old self.
  • Death of a Child: The orphaned evacuees. Cam is later revealed to have died in unknown circumstances.
  • Dark Is Evil: A malignant spectral figure, the ghost of sadistic Augustus Cribben, appears in dark silhouette.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The ghost of Nancy Linnet appears to Maurice Strafford, (who, along with Magda Cribben, murderered her), as a grotesquely decomposed walking corpse, which frightens him away from his attempt to murder Loren.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Chester is immediately terrified of Crickley Hall, and later runs away.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The now-aged Maurice Strafford, under the name Gordon Pike.
  • Friendly Ghost: The ghosts of the children, one of whom briefly comforts the grieving Eve. Nancy, their young tutor, later arrives to frighten away the murderous Maurice Strafford.
  • The Fundamentalist: The authoritarian mania of Augustus and Magda Cribben is driven, at least partly, by religious fundamentalism.
  • Genre Savvy: On finding Chester, Percy secretly takes him in, knowing dogs always fear Crickley Hall.
  • Haunted House: Yes.
  • Hostile Weather: In 1943, a flood washed away the bodies of the murdered evacuees. Another one soon threatens similar destruction.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, most of the evacuees were killed. Cam is revealed to have died in unknown circumstances.
  • Karmic Death: Elderly Magda Cribben, after years of silence on the crimes of herself and her brother, is frightened to death by his ghost.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Seraphina and her brother sneak into Crickley Hall with intent to leave a dead rat in Loren's bed, and get the living daylights scared out of them by the ghost of Augustus Cribben.
  • Light Is Good: The benevolent ghosts appear as white shadows and later, orbs of light.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Invoked by Gabe's scepticism and Gordon Pike's theories, but averted; Crickley Hall is definitely haunted.
  • Sadist: Augustus Cribben takes pleasure both in flogging and being flogged with his brutally fashioned cane. It rubs off on Maurice.
  • The Sociopath: Possibly Maurice. At thirteen, for favour of the Cribbens, he turns in for brutal punishment the other orphans, and helps Magda murder Nancy. Throughout adulthood, he blithely exploits others for the sadistic sexual pleasures honed in him by Augustus, and, in attempt to evade the pursuit from beyond the grave by August, tries to kill Loren.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Maurice Strafford ingratiated himself to the Cribbens by snitching on the other evacuees.
  • Supernatural Light: The ghosts are sometimes glimpsed as white shadows. When they cross to the next plane, they assemble in the hall as orbs of light.
  • Vengeful Ghost: The crazed ghost of Augustus Cribben stalks Maurice into old age. Maurice believes the murder of one last child of Crickley Hall will satisfy his assailant.
  • Women Are Wiser: Averted, Magda Cribben is just as cruel as her warped brother.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Both of the Cribbens terrorise the evacuees with brutal discipline but Augustus, in the grip of a migraine, attempts to circumcise five-year-old Jewish orphan Stefan, then leaves the boy to bleed to death.

The 2012 BBC miniseries provides examples of:


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