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Originally published Sunday, February 2, 2014 at 6:19 AM

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Susan Hill’s ‘The Mist in the Mirror’: the story of a man who disregards his senses

Susan Hill’s ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ is the story of a man who disregards the evidence of his senses.

Seattle Times book editor

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“The Mist in the Mirror”

by Susan Hill

Vintage, 272 pp., $15

Susan Hill is a prolific British author whose career has moved along several tracks. She has written novels and nonfiction, the Simon Serrailler mystery series and ghost stories. Her short, scary novel “The Woman in Black” was so atmospheric and effective it was made both into both a movie (starring “Harry Potter”’s Daniel Radcliffe) and a play, which continues a 25-year run in London’s West End.

Now Vintage is republishing her ghost stories for a U.S. audience, and like “The Woman in Black,” “The Mist in the Mirror” is a haunting, and haunted, example of the genre. Like “Woman,” it features a lonely man, an appreciation of the bleak and beautiful regions of rural England and a feeling of timelessness that traps the story in a sort of literary amber.

The story is told through a manuscript penned by Sir James Monmouth, an ancient gentleman who bequeaths it to a younger acquaintance after a chance meeting at their London club.

Sir James was raised in Africa by a nameless man he calls his Guardian. He knows virtually nothing about his birth family. After the Guardian dies and James achieves adulthood, he decides to follow the journeys of a travel writer named Conrad Vane, and for 20 years retraces Vane’s steps all over the world. Then he comes home to England, finds a cottage close by the Thames and discovers that his steps, no matter where he wanders, are being dogged by the shade of a 12-year-old boy.

“The Mist in the Mirror” is the story of a man who disregards the evidence of his senses. Terrible things are shown James by night, but by daybreak he’s convinced himself it was all a dream. A violet-eyed stranger on a train and an apple-cheeked schoolmaster implore him to turn around and head south, back to London. But James Monmouth is looking for his home, and that heartfelt desire draws him inexorably into a hall of nightmares.

Mary Ann Gwinn:

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