Only when he is on board the steamer halfway to their remote destination up river in Guyana does Milton Woodsley realise that there is more to Henry Nevinson’s invitation to spend time with his family in their jungle cottage. Milton, an artist, thinks he has been invited to do some paintings for Nevinson, a rich businessman, and possibly be thrust into the company of their daughter, Jessie. But when the Nevinsons mention a flute player that no one else can hear, Woodsley begins to glean that there is more to their stay.
Told in Woodsley’s sceptical, self-mocking and good-humoured voice, the tension rises as the cottagers’ sanity and lives are threatened by psychic manifestations whose source they must discover before it overwhelms them.
Mittelholzer subtitled his 1955 novel “A Ghost Story in the Old-fashioned Manner”, and there is more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek in this thoroughly entertaining work, though it rises to a pitch of genuine terror and has serious things to say about the need to exorcise the crimes of slavery that still echo into the present in the relationship between the light-brown, upper-class Nevinsons and their black servant, Rayburn. Amongst the barks of baboons, rustles of hidden creatures in the remote Berbice forests, Mittelholzer creates a brilliantly atmospheric setting for his characters and their terrified discovery that this is not a place where they can be at home.
Edgar Mittelholzer was born in British Guiana in 1909. He wrote more than twenty novels. He eventually settled in England, where he lived until his death in 1965, a suicide predicted in several of his novels.