by J.B. Priestley
Philip and Margaret Waverton and their friend Roger Penderel are driving through the mountains of Wales when a torrential downpour washes away the road and forces them to seek shelter for the night. They take refuge in an ancient, crumbling mansion inhabited by the strange and sinister Femm family and their brutish servant Morgan.
Determined to make the best of the circumstances, the benighted travellers drink, talk, and play games to pass the time while the storm rages outside. But as the night progresses and tensions rise, dangerous and unexpected secrets emerge.
Which is more deadly: the apocalyptic storm outside the house or the unknown horrors that await within? And will any of them survive the night?
Benighted is quite well-written and timeless in many ways. It tends toward philosophy, psychology, and introspection more than I was expecting, and as a result, it is also relatively slow-moving, though it's such a short novel, that's less of an issue than it might have been. Sometimes characters act in maddening ways-- repeatedly splitting up, for instance. (There's one example of this that I found particularly annoying, but it's a major spoiler, so I'll put that behind a spoiler warning, further down the page.)
Much of the novel is atmospheric, mysterious, and otherworldly-- but when the chief "menace" is revealed, I found it something of a let-down. I'm not sure what else it could/should have been, instead, but nevertheless, I was slightly disappointed.
Overall, this is a more serious, nuanced book than you often find in the genre and period. Recommended for fans of mysterious light horror with a psychological bent. I'd probably give this 3.5 stars, but since half-stars aren't available, I'm rounding up to four.
--The way the men sometimes try to protect the women may ruffle some modern feathers. I personally find it very irritating when Penderel locks the two women into another room. Of course I realize that he's trying to save them-- and maybe he does protect them by doing so-- but they're grown women. Surely they should have as much right as men would to decide for themselves what they want to do.
Also, one of my pet peeves is when characters act as though a woman (or even a child, for that matter!) can't contribute to the fight against the Bad Guy. Two strong, healthy young women could probably have helped Penderel fight Saul-- cracked him over the head with something, while the two were struggling-- something! Penderel might not have died, if he'd just let the women help him. That type of thing frustrates me to no end!
Oh, and since the chief danger from Saul was that he might set fire to the house, what if Penderel hadn't been able to stop Saul? I guess he assumed that by that time the two other men would come along and stop him, but if it hadn't worked out, the women would've been locked in that room, doomed to burn to death. (And that's why you don't lock the women into a room while you face the Bad Guy all by yourself!)
--Though there was definite foreshadowing, the ending came as something of a surprise to me. It was certainly more somber than I was expecting. The whole book was grimmer than I would ever have guessed.
--This isn't technically a spoiler, but I'll tack it here at the end, anyway. I adore the original cover art-- the black and white depiction of a house looming in a rainstorm. It's so evocative-- so beautifully simple and effective. The font choice, too. Very representative of the art of its time. (So much nicer than modern stuff, to be completely honest.) Actually, I like the cover better than the book itself. Five diamond-studded stars.