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The small hand: a ghost story by Susan Hill

(Profile, $29.99)

Having just read Jilly Cooper’s Jump! at 750 pages and the Girls’ Night In short story collection at 650, I was pretty keen to get my hands on something a bit easier to hold up in the bath tub. So I picked up The Small Hand, a delightful little hardback, weighing next to nothing and coming in at a mere 167 pages.

Well, it may be slight in some respects but don’t be fooled – this book packs a punch that most tomes 10 times its weight can only dream of. It’s not sub-titled “A Ghost Story” for nothing.

Antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow (antiquarian booksellers quite often turn up in chilling novels – be careful if you know any) is driving through the picturesque English downs when he happens upon an overgrown garden to which he is strangely drawn.

As he stands in the silence of a moonlit clearing, he feels a small hand creep into his large one, as if a child had taken hold of it.

It’s not an altogether unpleasant experience for harmless bachelor or Snow, but it is an unsettling one, and the next time he feels it, it is more unsettling still, and so it goes.

The point of the story is finding out exactly which one-time living individual belongs to the small hand in question and why it is picking on or Snow in ways that are increasingly spooky.

Written in the modern day, it is strangely timeless, as the worlds of overgrown gardens, dilapidated English houses, remote French monasteries and the aforementioned antiquarian booksellers often are.

Indeed, it totally gave me the creeps, so naturally I loved it. Writer Susan Hill’s first ghost story was The Woman in Black, which she wrote in six weeks just to see if she could, and which was subsequently adapted for the theatre and has been scaring the pants off London theatre-goers for years.

With its lovely presentation, The Small Hand would make a great gift for anyone who likes their thrills and chills in neat little packages.

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