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The Death Chamber by Sarah Rayne

The Death Chamber (2008)

by Sarah Rayne

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919132,676 (3.84)6



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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Sarah Rayne writes dark-secret-of-the-past thriillers that rely heavily on coincidence. n this case, unfortunately, so much so as to be ridiculous. ( )
  phoebesmum | Nov 20, 2012 |
I found out about this author in "Good Reading Magazine" and I was so glad I did! What appealed to me was that every book by this author has a haunting, creepy historical building, and she brings it to life in the book. This was very true in "The Death Chamber" where the focus of the story was Calvary Gaol.

The blurb on the back of the book doesn't really do it any justice. I enjoyed multiple plots interwoven with many twists and turns and a few surprises. I was left wanting to follow each of the plots further, but that was what kept me turning the pages into the night. In fact, one of the surprises had me going back to the start to read over a particular section. (In the same way you want to watch "Sixth Sense" again when you know the twist).

Based on the title of the book, you could be mistaken in thinking that this book will be full of bloodshed and carnage, but in fact it's not. Trust me, you don't need that to make you jump. Rayne does a magnificent job of describing the gaol, you almost feel like you're there.

I can't wait to read more of her books. ( )
  Carpe_Librum | Nov 29, 2010 |
Calvary Prison has for years now been empty and abandoned. In the past however it was used for holding long-term prisoners and as a place of execution. Many a murderer,both male and female have been hung in the execution chamber here.
Now a television presenter and his team are hoping to obtain permission to spend a night locked in the room where these hangings took place. The two who end up there are a young woman whose family had strong connections with Calvary and a man who is blind.
On the plus side I found this a fast paced story which for most of the time really gripped me. However there were just too many coincidences for my liking and the story was extremely and unnecessarily convoluted .
So although good in parts,this was for me the weakest of the Sarah Rayne books and thus I give it a 4.
A final point regarding the cover - 'That is not a prison,that is a church tower minus the church. Don't the people who put the book together not read even a precis of the thing. Words fail me ! ( )
  devenish | Aug 15, 2010 |
Billed as a psychological thriller, I grabbed this book eagerly, thinking it might hold a treat along the lines of Sophie Hannah’s twisting thrillers. The author, Sarah Rayne, has written several books under this genre after previously having written successful horror stories. Now, having read ‘The Death Chamber’, I feel cheated. Twisty, yes; thriller-y? No. Psychological depth? Hmm. But let me explain.

The plot – and genre

The dramatic title prepares you for an exciting blurb. Calvary Gaol, a place of execution, has been abandoned for many years. Now, a young woman whose history is bound up in the gaol has come to seek answers about her great-grandfather, who worked there as a prison doctor in the 1930s. According to the blurb writers, “his involvement in a bizarre experiment would change the course of his life forever”. At the same time, a group of TV researchers are planning to conduct a new experiment there, but there is someone who does not wish the shocking truth about the place to come out, and who will do anything to stop it…

Wow! What an exciting story! Except – it isn’t. Without spoiling any of the plots I can assure you that none of those three promising storylines (the young woman’s search, the TV crew’s experiment, or the dastardly villain’s plots) really creates the excitement promised by the blurb. Instead, there is a gently gothic mood, created mostly by the responses of the characters to the oppressive atmosphere of the gaol and their actions there. (If you will insist on going into an abandoned graveyard for murderers in the middle of the night, you’re guaranteed a certain level of fear.) Instead of a pacey thriller, there is a sense of mysteries unfolding and an almost Dickensian intertwining of lives over many years.

In fact, what the blurb doesn’t tell you is that the narrative switches backwards and forwards between three periods – the 1930s, 1950s and today. The first time this happens is rather early on in the first chapter and I found it disconcerting, but after the initial rather abrupt changes the writing style seemed to settle down a bit and Rayne began to stay longer in each time period to allow you to get engrossed in the storyline. There are also some rather odd jumps in narrative. For example, as the central character, Georgina, is wondering whether or not she can afford to make the trip to Calvary, we suddenly hear her accountant's voice speaking to her. This and similar instances did jar and detract a bit from my absorption in the story, but these are, again, clustered towards the beginning of the story.

Initial impressions and characterisation

Somewhat bizarrely, the story begins to feel like chick lit in the first chapter: a wife who has been abandoned by an ungrateful, love rat husband leaves falling apart life behind to investigate her family history as a distraction. She will never love or trust again…except you are sure that she will, by the end of the story. The typical journey motif is in place, too, for she must travel in order to find out the truth about herself and discover her heart’s true beloved… Alright, so the text doesn’t say all that, but it’s definitely implied, and the husband is obviously a complete pig as he has upped and left with Georgina’s business partner and all the business’ money. Nice.

So Georgina is our long suffering heroine on the look out for her family history (cough *true love*). Other characters are gradually introduced in a way that feels quite "set up" through dialogue. Perhaps I was just in a picky mood, but it seemed highly unnatural somehow, too contrived, for our heroine to be discussing the TV producer’s life and works before we meet him. After 40 pages, there was still no story; it all seemed to be set up, and there was still a sense that information Rayne thought the reader might need to know was being doled out through the mouths of her characters.

There are also extracts from quite early on (which are several pages long) from the TV producer’s best selling book ‘Talismans of the Mind’ which I, personally, found very boring. Once again, this seemed to be a gothic element of the tale: fake documentation to reveal the history of certain characters. Despite the subject matter – hoaxers conjuring ghosts to con unsuspecting bereaved mothers out of their riches – I found the extracts dull and awkward. Thankfully, these seemed to peter out as the story moved forward and the action shifted to the Gaol.

The other characters were interesting enough, especially one man who appeared to have a mother complex. (The further I read, the more I felt that there were shades of ‘Psycho’ there, which led to some interesting ideas about how the story might develop.) Rayne takes some time over her characters’ thoughts, exploring their motives and reasoning processes. I suppose that this is where the ‘psychological’ elements come in, and the modern day characters are generally realistic, particularly in the way that they are all flawed and vulnerable. The villains from the past are very one dimensional, though: Saul Ketch and the female escapee are simply vicious and it is not really possible to believe in their limited range of concerns.


The three distinct time periods are gradually woven together to reveal a complex map of relationships between the characters. I did enjoy the revelations that created these connections, and there were several genuine twists which seemed both feasible and shocking. I felt that the gradual drawing together of these stories was quite skilfully done.

The ‘thriller’ element was definitely missing for me. I found the villain of the piece decidedly un-frightening and, as the reader knows who he is from early on, and what he is planning, there is little in the way of suspense. I also found the story rather slow paced to be categorised as a thriller. It is certainly a deeply gothic tale, however, and I can understand comparisons to Daphne du Maurier, although I feel that du Maurier rightly spent more text on describing the setting. Rayne relies heavily on dialogue and it just isn’t as scary to be TOLD a place is scary: the reader needs to be able to visualise it. I couldn’t and so it never felt scary.

Of course, it also never felt scary because nothing really happens. Everything is recounted and a lot of the text is taken up with discussion between characters about other characters and what they did, or what they want to do. This means that the story lacks a certain dramatic immediacy. After one semi-eventful episode, the story draws gently to a conclusion. The blurb promises horrific events, but I felt as if I’d accidentally picked up a ‘Record of some Events Surrounding a Certain Prison (Sanitised Ladies’ Edition)’. (There is a supposedly scary ending, but I found it so unconvincing as a threat that I almost giggled instead.)

Despite this, it is a pleasant enough novel to read and there are some interesting titbits in relation to the history of hanging criminals. However, it is a very ‘light’ read and publishing it as a horror/thriller is surely an error, as everything that does happen is rather easy to read. There are serial killers lurking in the story, but you never see them ‘at work’.

Ultra Light Gothic reading: this will slip away from your mind easily when you close the covers for the last time. ( )
  brokenangelkisses | Jul 31, 2010 |
The coverline of the books reads 'there CAN be a fate worse than death' which is totally absurd and, together with the admittedly atmospheric but irrelevant picture is completely misleading.
Following an emotionally and financially ruinous break-up, Georgina Grey is intrigued to recieve a letter informing her she stands to benefit, albeit marginally, from a bequest made by her great grandfather, once a prison doctor at Calvary, the notorius 'murderer's gaol', in remote Cumbria.
Dr Walter Kane beqeathed a house to a now defunct society for psychic research: the house will be sold and whatever remains once the debts have been paid will go to Georgina. She sets off north immediately, is lodged in the house and meets with the Vincent Meade, the secretary of the Caradoc Society, and a local lawyer.
Investigative reporter Chad Ingram and his team of researchers are also in town, preparing to shoot a programme on Calvary gaol, and Georgina soon meets up with them and recomes involved in the process, going so far as to spend a night in the execution chamber.
What was the true story behind Neville Fremlin, the 'silver-tongued killer' hanged in 1938? Or the Irish patriot/English traitor, Nicholas O'Kane, excuted in 1917? And what about the delicately beautiful Elizabeth Molland, only 19 but with several kills to her name already, sentenced to be hanged in 1939? Lovely Liz was the only person to escape Calvary and it was certain some of the prison staff were involved.
And why, over 60 years later, is some-one so desperate to keep the events of those dark days in the late 1930s secret that he is prepared to kill?
A well-written thriller which while certainly not supernatural is full of eerie suspence and a malevolent, brooding atmosphere. ( )
  adpaton | Jul 9, 2009 |
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Georgina las den Brief ein zweites und dann ein drittes Mal, weil er so seltsam anmutete.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743285840, Paperback)

Calvary Gaol, standing bleak and forbidding on the Cumbrian hillside, exerts a curious influence over Georgina Grey. Her family's history is closely bound up in the penitentiary’s dark and terrible past. Television presenter Chad Ingram is fascinated by Calvary as well. He plans to conduct a new experiment in the long-vacant structure within the brooding desolation of the old execution chamber. Chad's experiment and Georgina's curiosity, however, will have horrifying consequences. Someone is dead set on suppressing the truth of Calvary, and is willing to go to any lengths to ensure that its shocking past remains buried.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:17 -0400)

Calvary Gaol, standing bleak on the Cumbrian hillside, exerts a curious hold over Georgina Gray. It's there that her great-grandfather worked as a prison doctor in the 1930s, where his involvement in a bizarre experiment would change the course of his life forever. Now a TV experiment brings new horrors.… (more)

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