Out Went the Taper (R.C. Ashby)

  • By R.C. Ashby
  • First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1934; US: Macmillan, 1934

Not as good as He Arrived at Dusk. Although it’s another ghost story (haunted house in Wales, with a splendidly nightmarish journey through underground passages festooned with cobwebs), it’s basically an adventure story, with gangsters.  Gangsters!  To her credit, Ashby avoids the clichés (gun battle, sinister men skulking around the bushes, a kidnapping, and derring-do on the part of the young people, with a bride to win for U.S. Rhodes Scholar Tal Winyatt)—but it’s still disappointing.  I’d much rather have a proper Carrian or Mitchellian detective romance than a tale in which we see half the chapters from the gangsters’ perspective.  Still, it’s good fun.


BLURB

1934 Macmillan

A dreary, barracklike rectory under the foreboding shadow of the crumbling ruins of an ancient Welsh monastery provides the background for this mystery – surpassing in horror He Arrived at Dusk.

The people in the cast are the Reverend Ambrose, the village rector, and a student of things psychic; Mrs. Cory, his wife; Nigel and Nora, their son and daughter; Tal Winyatt, an American spending his vacation at the rectory; Doctor Gabor, a German scientist with a belief in ghosts and a strange, unhappy past; Mrs. Cory’s sister; Mrs. Powys, a medium; Swan Stenhalls, Mick Webster, and Tony Cleeve, strangers in the valley; and Mr. Collins, owner of the rectory.

It is Tal, the young American, who finally solves the mystery of the ghosts that haunt the monastery, but not before two murders have been committed in cold blood, one love affair has been finished forever, and a second begun.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

John O’London’s Weekly (10th March 1934):

Times Literary Supplement (22nd March 1934): Plas Conan, an old house near a mountain village about nine miles from bleak Llanberis, has been made the temporary home of the rector, Ambrose Cory, his family, and their guests, among whom was numbered Tal Winyatt, a young man with a hankering for adventure.  The position, history, and appearance of the house were ideal for nourishing ghosts and talk about ghosts.  Winyatt, paying a midnight clandestine visit to the ruins of a monastery, underwent a unique psychic experience which was capped by his meeting and talking to a man who called himself Halliday and who, his host subsequently confirmed, had been dead for many years.  A less material but equally obvious ghost paraded the corridors of the house.  With scientific interest stirred, Mrs. Cory communicated with the landlord and previous resident of Plas Conan; and he, being a gangster masquerading under the name of Leger, conceived a reasonable explanation of the Halliday ghost, concluding that the spectre was nothing more than an ex-member of his gang who was hoping to attract the attention of the authorities to the Halliday case because he knew that Leger had murdered the original Halliday.  Leger dispatched his lieutenant to kill the ghost, but affairs went badly for the crooks with the result that through the activities of Tal Winyatt all their villainies past and present were brought to light.  The other ghost was apparently a perfectly authentic manifestation and was also linked up with Leger’s past history.  If logic has been sacrificed to make the flesh creep the least that can be said is that the flesh does creep.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): No real detection.  Elements of the supernatural are left dangling at the end of the tale, which concerns a young Rhodes scholar’s involvement in the mystery surrounding a ruined Welsh monastery, the scene of a murder by entombment.  Entertaining but frustrating stuff.