Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

Printer's Devil Court

A short while ago I quoted the opening paragraph and an extract from page 56 of this novella in one of My Friday posts. I was hoping Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill would live up to the promise of its blurb of a chilling ghost story.

Blurb (Amazon)

A chilling ghost story by the author of The Woman in Black.

One murky November evening after a satisfying meal in their Fleet Street lodgings, a conversation between four medical students takes a curious turn and Hugh is initiated into a dark secret. In the cellar of their narrow lodgings in Printer’s Devil Court and a little used mortuary in a subterranean annex of the hospital, they have begun to interfere with death itself, in shadowy experiments beyond the realms of medical ethics. They call on Hugh to witness an event both extraordinary and terrifying.

Years later, Hugh has occasion to return to his student digs and the familiar surroundings resurrect peculiar and unpleasant memories of these unnatural events, the true horror of which only slowly becomes apparent.

Sadly, I don’t think it does live up to the blurb. I think it’s well written, but I didn’t find it chilling, although it does have a great sense of melancholy. Susan Hill is very good at setting the scene, although at times I was under the impression that this was set in Victorian times, especially as the illustrations give it a Dickensian feel. But in this scene when Hugh returns to London forty years later this is what he records :

… this corner of London had changed a good deal. Fleet Street no longer housed the hot-metal presses and many of the old alleys and courts had long gone, most of them bombed to smithereens by the Blitz. (page 68)

So, it’s not set in Victorian times, but in the 20th century.

Hugh is a junior doctor and shares his lodgings with three other medical students, Walter, Rafe and James and the story begins one evening as Walter asks what they all think about the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. It turns out that he and Rafe have been experimenting with the possibility of capturing the last breath and want Hugh to be a witness to what they find. From that point on  I could see almost exactly where the story was heading – it is too predictable.

It’s really a very short story padded out with several pages of illustrations, divided into three parts with an introductory letter, Postscript and Hugh’s Final Pages with blank pages between each sectionMaybe, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with this book if I hadn’t just read Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s and three of his short stories at the end of that book, which I think are excellent.

  • Hardcover, 105 pages
  • Published September 25th 2014 by Profile Books Ltd (first published October 14th 2013)
  • Source: Library Book

11 thoughts on “Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill”

      1. I can’t say if its better or worse since I haven’t read the short stories. Of course, part of the issue was that I knew the plot of Woman in Black from the stage version (stunning) – and was expecting rather more finesse in the writing

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  1. I find Susan Hill very variable. At her best she is superb, but too often of late I’ve found her work disappointing. I’m sorry the same has been true for you where this is concerned.

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  2. I gave this a 4 on Goodreads but I can’t remember very much about, which is indicative. I was either feeling generous on that day or possibly it was rounded up from 3.5. Whatever, this was not one of her best stories and like you I remember thinking it was Victorian and being surprised that it wasn’t. Some of her writing is superb but I can’t help wondering if her regular ghost stories have had their day.

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    1. Cath, this is one of those books that I think is very hard to rate because although I like the atmosphere and setting I think the plot is weak and unconvincing. I’m beginning to think ghost stories are not for me.

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  3. I didn’t want to say when you mentioned you’d be reading it, but I also found this disappointing. It was as if she had included all the stock ingredients of a Victorian ghost story (I also felt it was Victorian – don’t think I spotted the reference to the Blitz), but forgotten to include the scare factor. I have her The Woman in Black on my TBR, but I’ve never gee’d myself up enough to read it…

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