Acrimony and paranoia lead to Uncle James first disinheriting, and then locking up, each of his relations. With a storm rising and everyone imprisoned in his or her bedroom, James is lured to the top of the tower. From afar, Emily witnesses her uncle attacked by a “floating dagger.” Inspector Fenby, already in the neighborhood under the guise of a devout spiritualist, takes charge of the investigation. With some historical help from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Fenby separates the supernatural from the criminal and reveals the ghost of Amberhurst Place.
Hull provides some of his characters with highly entertaining description and personality. Gregory Spring-Benson, who begins the tale, is an engaging mix of well-bred underachiever and schemer. (More on him in a minute.) And James Warrenton, the dyspeptic uncle plagued with too many nephews, is a marvel of gullibility, acidity, and stubborn unsentimentality. Regarding the death of one of his relations, Hull captures Uncle James’s perspective with this colorfully blunt rationale:
He objected to there being an inquest held on the death of Arthur Vaughan ostensibly because (a) there was no such thing as death – his nephew had merely passed over to a slightly different form of existence; (b) it was quite obvious what happened; (c) Inspector Perceval of Periton was an ass who did not even know it until he had been told so – by James, needless to say; and (d) that it was his own nephew and his own house and his own ghost, and he ought to be able to do what he liked. It was, of course, all of no avail, and he had to content himself with being as obstructive as possible.
[He] was so small and insignificant, and so very anxious not to put any one to the smallest particle of trouble, that it was impossible to do anything else than just accept the fact that he was there and, if possible, avoid tripping over him. Indeed, he really did rather resemble a footstool.
All elements considered, The Ghost It Was remains an enjoyable read. Richard Hull is clearly drawn to unlikable, comically confident characters, and watching these figures scheme and argue with everyone in their orbits is a great pleasure. Inspector Fenby returns (and creates an equally unremarkable impression on the reader) in the following year’s The Murderers of Monty.