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By Israel Drazin
The Haunted Hotel
By Wilkie Collins
This is another of the many books that can be obtained free of charge from amazon and other sources because its copyright has long ago expired. The novel shows Wilkie Collins at his near best, just below his masterpieces The Moonstone and The Woman in White, both of which can also be obtained free of charge. Like them, this is a mystery focusing on a strange woman.
A badly complexioned woman, Countess Narona, who describes herself as “a living enigma,” is able, by what means we do not know, to seduce a rich man, Lord Montbarry, away from his lovely younger fiancée, Agnes Lockwood. The Countess has an extremely bad reputation, and her future husband’s family do all they can, unsuccessfully, to persuade him not to marry her. She is always accompanied by a man, Baron Rivar, who she and he say is her brother. The jilted younger woman, Agnes, defends her rival, feeling that her fiancée did not reveal that he was engaged, but circumstances later change her mind, and the other woman revolts her.
The tale is filled with unusual occurrences and suspense. Without revealing what happens, I can say that the tale raises lots of questions that hold reader’s attention. We read wondering if a crime has been committed and , if so, what was it and who did it; is the Countess really bad; is she sane; why does she feel tormented; why did she want to marry the Lord; was it for the huge insurance money when he would die; why does she think she is driven to do certain things against her will that will end up harming her; why can’t she resist what is driving her; will Agnes give in and marry her prior fiancée’s younger brother; what happens to her prior fiancée the Lord, the Countess, and the Countess’s brother; why do two rooms – where the Lord and the Countess’s brother slept – affect the Lord’s family members as if the rooms are haunted; what caused the Lord’s butler to vanish; why did his maid quite her job; why did the Lord send his butler’s wife a huge sum of money? These are just some of the questions readers think about as they read this fascinating, enjoyable, and memorable drama.