Cover image for The haunting of Torre Abbey
The haunting of Torre Abbey
Buggé, Carole.
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New York : St. Martin's Press, 2000.
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258 pages ; 22 cm
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"Watson, do you believe in ghosts?"

With this question, Sherlock Holmes shatters the calm of a quiet evening in their London flat and, with Dr. John Watson at his side, embarks upon a particularly strange case. Holmes has received a request for aid from Lord Charles Cary, whose family is seemingly being threatened by ghosts in and around the family manor. The manor is Torre Abbey, a twelfth-century monastery in Torquay, Devon, and it has a long history of hauntings. While skeptical of the supernatural, Holmes does believe that the Cary family is in danger-a belief which proves to be horrifyingly accurate when, shortly after they arrive at Torre Abbey, a household member dies suddenly, mysteriously, and seemingly of fright. As strange sightings and threatening apparitions become almost commonplace, Holmes must uncover the secrets of the haunted abbey and the family that lives there if he is to have any hope of protecting the living and avenging the dead. In a case that taxes his wits, and seems beyond the reach of his usual methods, Holmes must grapple with his most deadly and unforgiving foe.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Lord Charles Cary contacts Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to seek their help in protecting his mother and sister from the ghosts that haunt the Cary manor house--formerly a monastery--in the resort town of Devon. Holmes and Watson arrive just in time for a murder, but before they can solve the crime, they must sort out the guilty secrets held by Cary, his family, the servants, and the neighbors. In her fourth novel, Buggedoes a compelling and realistic job of bringing Holmes and Watson back to life. She offers a complicated plot, the appealing atmosphere of the Victorian resort, and much fascinating information on ghosts, seances, and medieval English history. Her brisk plot and concise prose are a welcome relief from many Holmes re-creations, which too often collapse under the weight of excessive period detail and unwieldy language. Suggest this one to Holmes buffs who liked Nicholas Meyer's take on the sleuth in the deerstalker hat. --John Rowen

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her second attempt to capture the spirit of Holmes and Watson, Bugge is more successful than in her first, The Star of India, but nonetheless the novel is marred by a mawkish sensibility not present in the original series. This time the Great Detective and his sidekick return to the site of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where they confront a strange household haunted by another figure out of legend--the ghost of a monk decapitated in the 14th century. Situated in Devon, the Torre Abbey monastery was converted in the 17th century into the manor house of the aristocratic Cary family. Three family members--siblings Charles and Elizabeth and their recently widowed mother, Marion--still live there with their small staff: a cook and her bastard son, a chambermaid and a butler. Lord Charles entreats Holmes to visit after he and his fragile sister see a ghost. Holmes quickly ascertains that everyone in the small household has a secret, but he and Watson must still conduct a seance, a foxhunt and a walk on the moor to uncover the human agents behind apparently supernatural events and a very real murder. Once again Bugge's careful period descriptions capture the trappings and incidentals of Conan Doyle's novels, but readers will find her version of Holmes a bit more sentimental and not as sharp as the indelible original. Agent, Susan Ginsburg at Writer's House. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Watson, do you believe in ghosts?"     I was used to strange utterances from my friend Sherlock Holmes, but this one caught me off guard. Sitting in front of a blazing fire on a misty October evening in our sitting-room at 221B Baker Street, nothing was farther from my mind than ghosts.     Before answering, I took a sip of the spirits which did occupy me at present, in this case a very good glass of Montrachet '82. It was a useful tonic against the bitter biting rain which fell outside our window, pelting the cobblestones and stinging the cheeks of the poor souls who had the misfortune to be out on such a dreadful night.     I myself had just come in; after an unusually busy couple of weeks at my practice, I was worn out. An early flu epidemic had forced me to keep long hours for days on end, and now that the outbreak showed signs of being over, I had left the surgery in the hands of my capable assistant, Dr. McKinney, for a few days. A cab had been hard to come by, and I arrived at our rooms in Baker Street soaked to the skin. Now, however, the combination of the fireplace and red wine was reviving me in both body and spirit.     "Why do you ask?" I replied to my friend's strange question.     Holmes let one hand drop from the sofa, where he lay outstretched in his mouse-coloured dressing gown. He was in one of those languorous moods which often descended upon him between cases. The sitting-room was in a state of disarray: his makeshift laboratory table sat gathering dust at the far end of the room, and the remains of breakfast or lunch sat uncollected upon the dining table at the other end. Holmes was surrounded by discarded newspapers, strewn about everywhere like fallen leaves. When not at work upon a case, he devoured the papers eagerly in search of "crimes of interest"--anything out of the ordinary which might engage his restless attention. "Because Lord Charles Cary seems to think that he is being haunted," he answered. With that he produced a letter from his dressing gown and flung it in my direction.     I leaned over and picked it up. The stationery was a rich, creamy ivory colour, the paper of the highest quality; the watermark clearly showed the imprint of the best stationer in London.     "What do you make of it, Watson?"     The writing was in a clear, firm masculine hand. "A man," I opined, "of some strength of character--"     "Would you be so kind as to read it aloud?" Holmes interrupted, fishing some tobacco out of the Persian slipper where he kept it. "It will give me a chance to hear anything I may have missed the first time."     I knew that was hardly likely, but I complied and read the letter aloud to him. Torre Abbey Torquay, Devon     Dear Mr. Holmes, First of all, lest you think I am mad, let me state right away that I am in full possession of my faculties. But that I experienced the events which I now relate to you, there can be no doubt. On the seventh of October of this year occurred the following series of events at Torre Abbey, which has been in my family now for two centuries. Upon being summoned by an urgent telegram, I hurried from my graduate studies at Oxford to join my mother and younger sister at the abbey. My father having passed away recently, I am now the sole male member of the family and naturally feel a duty to protect the members of the weaker sex.     Holmes raised an eyebrow in his half-cynical way.     "Gallantry, Watson--always an attractive quality in a man, though it has been my observation that women are far from being the weaker sex. In fact, did you know that the lion himself is not the king of beasts everyone takes him for? It is the lioness who hunts and kills the prey, while the lion is content to sit idly by, preening his mane or sunning himself;" he remarked, stuffing his pipe.     "Very well, Holmes," I replied somewhat irritably. "Have it your way: women are the very devil incarnate. Now, may I continue?"     Holmes knit his brows in mock contrition. "Oh, dear, Watson, have I offended the gallant in you? I do apologize. I am sure women are the meek, fragile creatures you suppose them to be."     I ignored him and continued reading as a tremendous thunder clap sounded outside the window, rattling the window panes. Upon arriving at Torre Abbey, I found my mother in an excitable state and my sister bordering on nervous collapse.     Holmes stuck the pipe in his mouth, crossed his hands behind his head and kicked a newspaper from under his feet. "Here comes the good part, Watson." Let me say that if I were you I would hardly have credited what I am about to tell you. And yet I saw it as clearly as you now see the paper you hold in your hands. There are many legends associated with Torre Abbey, some going back centuries. The townsfolk like to talk, of course, but superstitions run rampant as rabbits in the West Country, and I never paid much attention to any of them. Briefly, the story is this: In the late fourteenth century a certain William Norton, who was then the Abbot of Torre, was suspected of committing a foul and cowardly murder. The alleged victim was a monk by the name of Symon Hastynges--     "Note the Welsh spelling of the name, Watson," Holmes said, lazily waving a hand in my direction.     "Yes, quite. May I continue?"     Holmes smiled. "By all means."     I turned my eye back to the page before me. To quell the rumours, Abbot Norton produced a man who resembled Symon Hastynges, but even then people claimed the man was an impostor and that the real Symon Hastynges lay buried in the churchyard--minus his head, which the abbot had done the courtesy of removing. The case against the abbot was never proved, but ever since then there have been reports of a headless monk who wanders the halls of Torre Abbey--and some claim they have seen him galloping along the avenue leading to the abbey, riding a blind ghost horse.     Holmes chuckled. "It's all deliciously chilling, is it not, Watson? Ancient abbeys, ghost horses, beheaded monks ... the stuff of children's bedtime tales." He yawned and stretched and flicked another newspaper onto the pile which lay on the floor.     "That well may be," I replied, "but Lord Cary seems to be rather upset by it."     "Ah, yes, you're getting to that part," he said, putting down the unlit pipe and closing his eyes.     I leaned forward closer to the fire and turned to the second page of Lord Cary's letter. If his handwriting was any evidence, he was indeed a man of strong character. He crossed his t's with decisiveness, and the ink was pressed firmly onto the paper with the conviction of a man who knows who he is. He went on to say that, having arrived at Torre Abbey on a Friday night, he listened with a sympathetic but skeptical ear to the tale his sister and mother told. It seems that two nights earlier, his sister, whose name was Elizabeth, heard what she thought to be rats scurrying in the hallway outside her room. Upon rising from her bed, she proceeded into the hall with a lit taper--except that instead of rats, she saw the ghostly form of a headless man dressed in a monk's habit!     She could not say where he had come from or indeed where he went, because she fainted immediately upon seeing him. The ghostly visitor had vanished by the time she awoke, but she could swear she heard the sound of horses' hooves on the lane outside. It was a dark night, and by the time she got to the window, there was no sign of either horse or rider. She went straight away to her mother's room, awakened her and told her what she had seen. Together they agreed to send for her brother Charles--Lord Cary--and had done so by urgent telegram the next day.     I glanced over at Holmes. His lean form was still; one arm was thrown carelessly over his head, his eyes were closed, and he gave every sign of being asleep. However, I knew him well enough to realize that he was listening intently, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Upon arriving late Friday night, I comforted my mother and sister and assured them they had nothing to fear. I did not attempt to explain what my sister had seen, for I was not yet convinced she had seen anything. My sister has a vivid imagination, and is of a high-strung and nervous disposition, unlike myself. For all I knew, it could have been an arrangement of shadows that frightened her. The abbey is old and damp, and there are nooks and crannies in the stones that, under the right lighting conditions, can even seem to move. After a light dinner, I prepared to retire; it had been a long day and I was tired. My bedroom is on the third floor, in the stone tower overlooking a courtyard which was once the back garden of the abbey. As I lay in my bed with a chemistry book--I am reading medicine at Oxford--I thought I heard a sound out in the courtyard below.     Another deafening clap of thunder sounded outside, and I practically leaped from my chair, dropping the letter onto the carpet at my feet. A shiver coursed through my body as I bent to pick up the missive, and I glanced over at Holmes to see if he had witnessed my alarm. He lay there peacefully as ever--though I thought I saw one eyelid twitch. I took a sip of my wine, which I had quite forgotten about, then turned back to the letter, eager to read what happened next. I went to the window and pulled back the curtains. Even now as I write this it seems so preposterous and unlikely that I would laugh at it myself had I not seen it with my own two eyes. There in the courtyard stood a man--or rather, the figure of a man--for he had no head. The night was dark but there was a faint moon, and I could make out that his clothing was that of a medieval monk. He was turned towards me, and stood there as if waiting for something. My first thought--or rather, my second, for I admit that my first was pure terror--was that someone was playing a trick on us. I seized my robe, threw it on and dashed down the stairs and out into the courtyard, but by the time I got there the figure had vanished. As I say, the night was dark, but I went back inside for a torch and poked around the grounds for upwards of half an hour before I gave up and went back to bed. I did not sleep much that night--for, trick or not--it was, as you can imagine, a most unsettling experience. I know you are a busy man, Mr. Holmes, and hope you will forgive me not coming to you in person with my story, but I am certain that, under the circumstances, you can appreciate my desire to stay near my sister and mother. I have cabled Oxford that I may not return to classes for some time, for I am determined to find who is behind this scheme. I do not know what they want or even who they might be, but if a trip to Devon is at all possible, given your busy schedule, I would welcome your help in this matter. Money is no barrier; please feel at liberty to name your price, and please also consider yourself my guest at Torre Abbey for as long as you like. Yours truly, Charles Cary P.S. Doctor Watson is also most welcome, should his schedule permit him to accompany you. I am an avid reader of his adventures and would be honoured to have him stay with us.     I put the letter down thoughtfully. Though naturally gratified by the compliment in his last lines, I was most struck by the sincere tone of the letter. I did not think it was a hoax, and believed entirely that the man had indeed seen what he said he had seen. I stared into the fireplace at the orange and blue flames which crackled and leaped before me, and thought about the West Country. Not since our adventure at Baskerville Hall had Holmes and I visited the moors and bogs of Devon, and the mournful cry of the ghostly Hound still rang in my ears.     "Well, Watson, what do you think?"     Startled from my reverie, I turned to look at Holmes, who was sitting up now. He had been silent so long that I had practically forgotten about him. He lit a cigarette, awaiting my answer, his thin brows drawn together in an attitude of concentration.     "Well," I said, choosing my words carefully, "it is possible that the entire family suffers from hallucinations, but I don't think so."     "Oh? Why not?" He sat Indian-fashion on the sofa, his long legs tucked underneath him, a curl of blue smoke twisting from his lips as he exhaled.     I held up the letter. "This, mostly. Lord Cary strikes me as a man of sense and reason, not given to flights of fancy. He was skeptical about what his sister saw, but then was man enough to admit it when he saw a similar apparition."     "Quite," said Holmes, with a glance at Nature's fury raging just outside our window. The slanting rain pelted the panes and the wind howled like a living thing.     "What do you make of it, Holmes?"     "Oh, I quite agree with your conclusions. Lord Cary took special care to mention his sister's excessive imagination before relating his own encounter."     "What do you think it could be?"     "I can't possibly answer that without an examination of the abbey--and the Cary family."     "What do you propose to do?"     Holmes leaned back on the sofa.     "Do you have any pressing business in the next few days, Watson?"     I explained that as I had left my surgery in Dr. McKinney's hands for a while, I was quite unencumbered.     "Well, what do you say to a trip to Devon? Could you leave, say, tomorrow?"     "Yes, indeed," I replied, picking up my empty wine glass and placing it on the sideboard. "But now, how about some dinner? I'm famished." I was in fact feeling faint from hunger, having had very little time to eat all day long.     Holmes regarded the nest of newspapers scattered about the room. "I suppose I have to eat sooner or later," he sighed. "I'll ring Mrs. Hudson and see what she's up to."     Our ruminations were interrupted by a knock on the door.     "Come in," Holmes called from the couch, and the door swung open to admit the short, stalwart figure of our estimable, long-suffering landlady.     "Ah, Mrs. Hudson, right on cue," Holmes remarked amiably.     "I don't know about that," she replied, "but a telegram's just arrived for you and I thought I'd better bring it up quickly." Her red face and laboured breathing were a testament to how quickly she had rushed up the stairs.     "Indeed," said Holmes, flicking an ash from his sleeve. "What urgent business, I wonder, would bring someone out on a night like this?"     "That's what I said to the poor fellow who delivered it," she answered, fanning herself with the paper as she waded through the pile of discarded newspapers to where Holmes sat on the sofa. "You should have seen him--soaked to the skin he was--I thought he must be crazy and said as much, but he told me there was half a crown in it for him if he delivered it to you straight away."     She stood, hands on her ample hips, her broad face still flushed from her efforts.     But Holmes was not listening to her. He sat studying the telegram, his whole body motionless, in an attitude of deep concentration. Then he stood up abruptly and thrust the telegram at me.     "There is no time to waste, Watson," he said, his voice suddenly clear and sharp. "We must leave immediately."     "Leave? Where to?" Mrs. Hudson said, a bewildered expression upon her kindly face.     "To the West Country--Devon, to be exact," Holmes replied, striding off in the direction of his bedroom.     "Good Lord, why would you need to be going there on a godforsaken night like this?" she said, taking a few steps after him.     "Because someone's life may very well depend upon it," Holmes replied, and disappeared into the bedroom.     Mrs. Hudson turned to me. "What's he on about, Dr. Watson?"     I stared at the paper in my hand. The message was clear and yet cryptic:     FEAR WE ARE ALL IN DANGER STOP     PLEASE COME AT ONCE STOP     It was signed" Charles Cary, Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon."     "Good Lord," I said as Holmes came back into the room. "It's the Cary family again."     "Who are the Cary family?" Mrs. Hudson said.     "A family that has the misfortune of owning a haunted house," Holmes replied. "And now, Mrs. Hudson, might I impose upon you to pack us some sandwiches for our trip?"     Our good landlady stood still for a moment, then she threw her hands straight up into the air.     "I don't know," she muttered. "Sometimes I just don't know how I stand it."     "Has the boy left yet?" said Holmes.     "Well, no--he was soaking wet, and I brought him inside to give him a cup of--"     Holmes interrupted her. "Send him back with a telegram to Lord Cary that we will arrive tonight if at all possible." "We may just catch the last train out of Paddington tonight, Watson," Holmes called after me as I hurried upstairs to pack. Torquay was just coming into its own as a resort town, and as it turned out, there was a six forty-five train leaving from Paddington, scooping up the last of the London businessmen hurrying out to join their families at the country houses dotting the coastline of Tor Bay.     And so, less than half an hour later, I found myself seated beside Holmes in a railway carriage speeding through the darkened English countryside.     "How long do you think this will take to sort out?" I said as I hungrily devoured the cold roast beef sandwiches Mrs. Hudson had provided us.     Holmes stared out the window at the darkened landscape rushing by. "It's difficult to say, Watson," he replied, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Lord Cary provided so little information in his telegram."     He turned back to the window, his profile sharp in the flickering gaslight. We sat without speaking, surrounded by the sounds of the train: the low, rhythmic pulse of the engine, the chunk-a-chunk beating of pistons in their chambers, the clatter of metal wheels on the rails, and the squeaking and groaning of the wooden carriage as it swayed to and fro. Holmes sat looking out the window, his dark eyes narrowed, his brows furrowed, his long fingers fidgeting with an unlit pipe. Finally he spoke.     "A curious thing, the human imagination, Watson. As far as I know, it is one of the things separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom."     "I suppose so," I replied, staring out the window at the dim landscape. "I've never heard of a wildebeest imagining the presence of a lion when none was there. On the other hand, perhaps we just don't know enough about animals."     "Perhaps," Holmes answered, shrugging. "Speaking of animals, Watson, you could always give the cat to one of your patients."     I stared at him. "How did you know about the cat?"     He dismissed my astonishment with a wave of his hand. "Oh, come, Watson. When you arrived at Baker Street tonight you were sneezing; rubbing your eyes and wheezing--and you are still wheezing slightly, I can hear it. What am I to deduce but that you have an animal singularly noted for producing allergic reactions even among fanciers of the breed?"     I shook my head. "Really, Holmes, you might have come to the conclusion that I have a cold."     He shook his head. "You rarely get colds, Watson--you seem to be blessed with an iron constitution--and besides, the symptoms you display are of an allergic reaction, not a viral infection."     "Very well, Doctor," I said somewhat brusquely. "Then I suppose you can give me a full description of the animal in question."     Holmes smiled. "Really, that would be asking too much. I'm afraid I shall have to disappoint you on that score. I can only say that it is of a suspicious, violent disposition, is a rather small calico, oh--and that it is of course a female."     I threw up my hands. "Very well; I should have known better than to challenge you. Of course you are right, and now do me the kindness of describing how you arrived at your conclusions."     "Well, the scratches on your left hand, which you have dressed with iodine, were the first clue as to the animal's disposition. As to the coat, I can just make out three colours of hairs clinging to your overcoat--hence my conclusion the cat is a calico. And, as you may know, calicoes--and the closely related tortoiseshells--are always female. Females tend to be smaller than the males of the species, and since this was most probably a stray cat and therefore undernourished, I gambled that it was not a large cat."     "Very well, Holmes, once again you are correct."     "I only hope I am so fortunate with the Cary family," he replied, turning again to look out the window.     "Holmes, you don't think ..." I began. He turned to look at me, his eyes keen in the dim light. "Before, when you asked me if I believed in ghosts," I continued, "you didn't seriously think ..."     He smiled grimly. "What I think," he said slowly, "is that the Cary, family is in danger--and that I take very seriously indeed."     I nodded and turned away; I had nothing else to say. We sat for some time in silence as the train hurtled through the night toward its dark destination.