A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall
by Hannah Dennison
Cover Artist: Mary Ann Lasher
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250130358
Date: 02 May 2017 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
NOTE: This review original ran in our June 2016 issue of Gumshoe Review.
A water pipe bursts inside the ancient monstrosity of Britain's Honeychurch Hall. Financially strapped, the residents cannot fix the resultant damaged ceiling. Antique dealer Kat Stanford and her romance novelist mother, Iris, explore the abandoned Great Hall in search of the valuable Hollar drawings; they wish to finance the repairs with their auction. Kat narrowly escapes death when she falls into a secret passage. To make matters worse, she discovers a skeleton that has been hidden there since 1958. Soon afterward, a deranged killer begins terrorizing the residents of Honeychurch Hall.
Hannah Dennison's A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall is the most gruesome and intriguing in the Honeychurch Hall mystery Series. Though it lacks the supernatural elements that many gothic novels have, it definitely has a Gothic setting. The abandoned Great Hall and the skeleton's discovery reminded me of my beloved gothic soap opera Dark Shadows directed by the late Dan Curtis. Many will find similarities to the hit British drama, Upstairs, Downstairs. Lord Rupert, Lady Lavinia, and the Lady Dowager, Edith, from the hall's upper crust; they believe they are above the law. Then there are the many servants who include Kat, Iris and Iris' stepbrother, Alfred Bushman. Alfred, an ex-con, becomes involved in various comic hijinks.
Much emphasis is placed on familial love in A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall. It appears that everyone is related to one another. Whether they are rich or poor, family members attempt to protect each other. This protection leads to committing crimes and concealing crimes, even crimes involving murder. "Keeping secrets" is a reoccurring theme. The monstrous, dilapidated Honeychurch Hall with its multitude of rooms, wings, and hiding places contains many dark secrets. Also, Iris has spent a great deal of her life as a romance writer, which she kept a secret from her family. More of her secrets will be revealed. Also, many lies are told to prevent the revelation of secrets. I was astonished by the multitude of lies that Kat and Iris told, but they did it for love.
This novel brings much attention to the plight of many British mansions that are disappearing like an endangered species of animal; they are falling into ruin because of a lack of funding to keep them functional. Also, Kat, who is an antique dealer trying to open up her own shop, Kat's Collectibles, speaks of the rare Titanic Black Mourning Bear of which only 600 were manufactured by Steiff. This bear actually exists. At Christie's Auction House in London, on December 4, 2000, one of them sold for $136,000. Another interesting fact discussed in the novel is the priest-hole. It really was invented by St. Nicholas (c 1550 - 1606), a priest who was imprisoned in the London Tower and tortured to death for his religious beliefs. The priest-hole saved the lives of thousands of Catholics.
With its gruesome killings, humongous country estate, intriguing mystery, historical tidbits, and a large ensemble of zany characters, Hannah Dennison's A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall is guaranteed to please many readers. What I liked most about the novel is the priest-hole with the secret passage beneath it. Someone could become trapped in there for years and no one at Honeychurch Hall would know. It's a gruesome way to die, much like the fate awaiting Fortunato in Edgar Allen Poe's gothic tale of revenge, The Cask of Amontillado. Furthermore, becoming forever trapped in a small, dark, enclosed space has always been a phobia of mine. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall. I just wish Dennison would throw in a ghost or two in her next novel.