Sir Richard Sedgeley and Lady Mary have lived in Starborough Castle for many decades. Yet, no heir has ever arrived and the couple has problems of maintaining the castle. They even have to admit tourists to the old building to get along. An American investor seems to be the solution; he wants to buy the castle to transform it into a museum. However, only when John Blayne arrives do they understand that his plan is to dismantle everything to transport it to Connecticut. Kate Wells, the maid, is strongly against it and begs her master to think it all over. Lady Mary quickly brings forward that this idea must be strongly against their will, leaving it to John Blayne to understand who “they” are. In the night, strange things happen at the castle and the next morning, people are not the same anymore.
Pearl S. Buck is mainly known for her novels set in China which also awarded her the Nobel prize for literature in 1938. This novel here, however, is quite different form the writings you’d expect from such a laureate. “Death in the Castle” is much more in the tradition of classic ghost stories of the 19th century. It provides all the ingredients necessary: an old spooky castle, an elderly couple, a young woman open for paranatural doings, the butler who seems to hide something and the outsiders who come to spend a night in the old walls. We have some peculiar and inexplicable things happening in the small hours giving the characters the creeps.
Despite all this, I did not really find the story that thrilling. Most of it seems to be too much of a construction to flow smoothly. The characters are too flat to really raise any interest and there is not development at all. Even the love story between Kate and John Blayne is not convincing, he is immediately attracted by her, but she seems to be either stupid or too distracted to really understand what is happening. All in all, most of the novel is oversubscribed to my taste and thus too stereotypical, especially for an author of Pearl S. Buck’s reputation.