Peril at Stone Hall


… held a mystery as impregnable as the walls of the castle. Skeletal hands appeared at its window. Low sobbing floated from behind its iron door, and a broken voice ceaselessly sang a child’s nursery tune.

Dory heard the sounds and saw the shadows move but the others blamed it on the howling wind and her imagination.

Was she going insane?

Or had she stumbled upon a secret that would keep her forever entombed inside the castle?

Written by Jane Corby. A Macfadden-Bartell Gothic 1972.

This book treads a similar path plot-wise to Rona Randall’s Leap in the Dark (reviewed last year). Both involve rich, befuddled grannies prone to forgetting who their relatives are and therefore vulnerable to unscrupulous impostors hell-bent on stealing the family fortune.

Granny Dugald lives alone in a huge, old castle laden with treasure. Her son, Ronald Dugald, died twenty years ago in a plane crash. She has never accepted his death, clinging to the belief that he  is still working as an archaeologist in some far-flung part of the world and has merely forgotten to phone. Then a man claiming to be her son turns up on her doorstep and she is overjoyed.

Enter our heroine, Dorcas Lane  or Dory as she prefers to be known. Dory is the real Ronald Dugald’s daughter and knows her father is dead. She has never met her grandmother but is horrified to learn what is happening and so makes it her mission to  travel to Stone Hall in order unmask this pretender and see that justice is done.

Arriving at Stone Hall, it is obvious to Dory something is very wrong. The castle has been remortgaged and many of its treasures auctioned off. All the servants have been sacked  and replaced by a very sour-faced cook and her half-witted son, Leon, who likes to stroke people’s hair and collects ‘shiny things’. Then there is the pretend-Ron himself – his clothes are too bright, he laughs funny and, worse of all, he loves modern furniture. Dory is furious someone so ill-bred, so gauche is getting away with pretending to be her father. However, her stay at Stone Hall is proving to be very, very dangerous . . .

Peril was not a bad gothic to start off the year, even though the plot was pretty predictable. Extra marks awarded for the castle Stone Hall, which we learn was built by a pirate in the 17th century in order to stash his booty. Perched on the edge of a cliff  and riddled with secret passages, this made a great gothic setting. With  its crumbling cliffs, tottering bell towers, collapsing secret chambers and even some booby-trapped abandoned mines, this place would give anyone nightmares. Three out of five stars.