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The Man in the Picture

by Susan Hill

Published by Overlook Press

Print 2008

Reviewed by Mark Owings
Review posted 10/22/08

This is a new novel by the Susan Hill who many years ago wrote The Woman in Black. That novel may have never gotten a review in this country, but it sold well in the UK, and as the jacket copy on this book notes, the play version has been running in the London stage for eighteen years. (It also became a BBC teleplay, but I cannot imagine PBS ever bringing over anything as entertaining as that novel was.)

This novel, like that, is a good but very effective ghost story. The central idea, indeed, is a variation on "The Mezzotint," by M.R. James, which is not telling you anything you won't know by page 10 or so.

Turning a short story into a novel is of course hazardous, so maybe it is as well that this isn't one, quite. Those 145 pages are 7.5 by 4 inch pages, with 36,500. Quite short enough to acheive a totality of impact, as Poe put it.

It is old-fashioned -- much of it is a story within a story within a story -- but elegant. It may be perfect as a Christmas gift to broaden the horizons of someone who loves Stephen King. Bit if you read it yourself, it may send you searching for The Woman in Black, which I've never seen in a dealer's room. (Mine was acquired by sharp eyes and good luck.)

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