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Authors: Sophie Hannah

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The Orphan Choir

BOOK: The Orphan Choir
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The Orphan Choir
Hannah, Sophie
Hammer (2013)
Horror & Ghost Stories, Speculative Fiction

From master of psychological suspense Sophie Hannah comes a shocking new work of domestic horror that will take you to a new level of hair-raising terror.

Louise Beeston is haunted.

Louise has no reason left to stay in the city. She can’t see her son, Joseph, who is away at boarding school, where he performs in a prestigious boys’ choir. Her troublesome neighbor has begun blasting choral music at all hours of the night—and to make matters worse, she’s the only one who can hear it.

Hoping to find some peace, Louise convinces her husband, Stuart, to buy them a country house in an idyllic, sun-dappled community called Swallowfield. But it seems that the haunting melodies of the choir have followed her there. Could it be that her city neighbor has trailed her to Swallowfield, just to play an elaborate, malicious prank? Is there really a ghostly chorus playing outside her door? And why won’t they stop? Growing desperate, she begins to worry about her mental health.

Against the pleas and growing disquiet of her husband, Louise starts to suspect that this sinister choir is not only real, but a warning. But of what? And how can it be, when no one else can hear it?

The Orphan Choir
Sophie Hannah brings us along on a darkly suspenseful investigation of obsession, loss, and the malevolent forces that threaten to break apart a loving family.


“Horrifically good.
The Orphan Choir
is a very modern ghost story. The best thing, though? It has proper old-fashioned ghosts in it. There’s nothing like ghostly children to give you the collywobbles.”—

“This bestselling thriller writer knows how to pile on the tension, and her ending is chillingly, memorably disturbing.”—
The Sunday Times

Praise for Sophie Hannah
“Gripping...It’s like watching a nightmare come alive.”—Tana French on *The Truth Teller’s Lie

*“Sophie Hannah is a prodigous talent. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”—Laura Lippman

About the Author

SOPHIE HANNAH is an internationally bestselling author of psychological thrillers, poetry, and short fiction. Her work has been published in twenty-four countries, and her latest novel,
Kind of Cruel
, was shortlisted for the National Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year in 2012. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Award, and is taught in schools throughout the United Kingdom. She lives with her husband and children in Cambridge.


About the Book

About the Author

Title Page



One: September, October

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Two: December

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10


Chapter 11

My Relationship with Ghosts


About the Book

Louise is bereft.

Her seven-year-old son Joseph has been sent away to boarding school against her wishes. and she misses him desperately.

And the neighbour from hell is keeping her awake at night by playing loud, intrusive music.

So when the chance comes to move to the country, she jumps at it as a way of saving her sanity.

Only it doesn’t

Because the music seems to have followed her. Except this time it’s choral music, sung by a choir of children that only she can see and hear …

About the Author

Sophie Hannah is the internationally bestselling author of eight psychological thrillers, the most recent of which is
The Carrier
. Her crime novels featuring Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer have been published in more than 25 countries, and adapted for ITV1 as
Case Sensitive
, starring Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd. In 2012, Sophie’s novel
Kind of Cruel
was shortlisted for the Specsavers National Book Awards Crime Thriller of the Year, and in 2007 she was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize for her latest poetry collection,
Pessimism for Beginners
. She is a Fellow Commoner of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and her website is

The liturgical responses in this book come from real choral services I have attended at St Catherine’s College in Cambridge – a wholly wonderful and non-spooky institution whose girls’ choir, through no fault of its own, planted the seeds of a spooky story in my mind.

Vouchsafe, O Lord,

To keep us this night without sin.

O Lord, have mercy upon us,

Have mercy upon us.

O Lord, let thy mercy be upon us:

As our trust is in thee.

Turn us again, thou God of hosts:

Show the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

O Lord, hear our prayer;

And let our cry come unto thee.

The Lord be with you;

And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

Give us light in the night season we beseech thee, O Lord,

and grant that what we sing and say with our lips we may believe in our hearts

and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our daily life

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


September, October

It’s quarter to midnight. I’m standing in the rain outside my next-door neighbour’s house, gripping his rusted railings with cold wet hands, staring down through them at the misshapen and perilously narrow stone steps leading to his converted basement, from which noise is blaring. It’s my least favourite song in the world: Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.

There’s a reddish-orange light seeping out into the darkness from the basement’s bay window that looks as unappealing as the too-loud music sounds. Both make me think of hell: my idea of it. There are no other lights on anywhere in my neighbour’s four-storey home.

My lower ground floor next door is dark and silent. We mainly use it as guest accommodation,
and as we don’t often have guests it is usually empty. It comprises two bedrooms, a playroom-cum-Xbox room for Joseph, and a large bathroom. All of number 19’s internal cellar walls have been knocked down to make a single, vast area: either a chill-out den or an entertaining space, depending on whether you’re talking to my neighbour or his girlfriend.

I think the label ‘entertaining space’ worries him because of its public-spirited implications. The word ‘entertain’ suggests that one might give a toss about people other than oneself. My next-door neighbour doesn’t.

Freddy Mercury’s reflections about supersonic women are making me glad that I’ve never met one: they sound like a bit of a handful – not very easy-going. I’ve never had ambitions in the direction of supersonicness, whatever it might be. What I want is far more achievable, I hope: to be warm, dry, asleep. At the moment, those are the only things I want, the only things I can imagine ever wanting.

The stairs leading from the pavement down to number 19’s basement are slimy with moss, rain and street gunge. Each step’s surface was a perfect rectangle once, but more than a hundred years’ worth of feet and weather have worn away corners and edges, making them too uneven to use safely, especially in tonight’s waterfall-style downpour. Normally I look
at them and feel a twinge of satisfaction. The woman who sold us number 17 had recently had all of its eroded stonework replaced. The steps from our lower ground level up to the street are beautifully straight-edged, with a new black-painted iron handrail bolted on to them for added safety, but what does that matter, really? If I can’t sleep in my house when I want to, all its other virtues are somewhat redundant.

Number 19 has no handrail. I don’t fancy attempting the descent while water cascades from one step down to the next like a liquid Slinky toy without boundaries, but what choice do I have? If I want to get my neighbour’s attention, I’ll have to put myself where he can see me, or wait for a gap between songs and bang on the window of the room that he and his friends are in. I’ve rung the front doorbell seven times and he can’t hear me. Of course he can’t; Freddie Mercury is drowning out all other sounds.

I’m wearing pink-and-white checked pyjamas, drenched from knee to ankle, a black raincoat and trainers that were waterlogged five seconds after I left the house. My feet now feel as if they’re in two flotation tanks, weighing me down. It’s the opposite of people putting slabs of concrete in their pockets to make them sink when they wade into water; I am weighed down by water, on the pavement’s concrete. This is the kind of rain the skies pour over your
head in a never-ending torrent. It’s hard to believe it’s composed of light individual drops.

I can’t help laughing at the absurdity of it as Freddie Mercury invites me to give him a call if I want to have a good time. The problem is that my definition of a good time differs greatly from the song’s, and from Mr Fahrenheit’s. That’s what Stuart and I privately call our neighbour, though his real name is Justin Clay, and I’ve heard his friends and his girlfriend Angie call him Jub. My definition of a good time is being able to get into bed whenever I want to – yes, even quite early on a Saturday night – and for there to be no pounding rock anthems booming through my wall, preventing me from getting to sleep.

It only happens every two or three Saturdays. Thankfully, Mr Fahrenheit spends at least every other weekend at Angie’s house, but when her kids are with their dad, Angie comes to stay at number 19 and it’s party time – or at least, it sounds to me like a party whenever it happens. Sometimes they decide to make the most of their child-free weekends and play loud music on two consecutive nights, Friday and Saturday. Mr Fahrenheit assures me that it is never a party, always a ‘little get-together’. I have tried on four separate occasions to explain to him that I don’t mind what we agree to call it as long as he’s willing to
lower the volume of his music to an acceptable level.

The get-together guests are always the same – the man who wears walking boots with the laces untied and tucks his jeans into his chunky socks; the stooped, too-tall man with the floppy hair and the rucksack; the frizzy-haired chain-smoking dance teacher who works at the performing arts school on Woolnough Road; the fat woman with red glasses and oddly sculpted hair dyed the colour of a blue Persian cat – and Mr Fahrenheit always plays the same songs for them to sing and shout along to, though, to be fair, he does vary the order: ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi, Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’, A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’, ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52’s, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ – I can’t remember who that one’s by.

And the centrepiece of his every musical gathering: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen, which expresses my noisy neighbour’s attitude to life far better than he himself does. I’m sure he hasn’t analysed the lyrics as I have, but I don’t think it can be a coincidence that he is a ruthlessly selfish hedonist and the song he blasts out more often than any other – usually two or three times on a party night – is a hymn to his ideology. The narrator in the song is not merely someone who wishes to have a good time (which would be reasonable) but someone who is acutely
aware that the fun he intends to have (out of control, like an atom bomb) will adversely affect others to the point that they will find it unbearable and seek to put a stop to it. He anticipates this, and makes it clear that he only wants to hear from those who agree with him about what constitutes a good time.

Stuart would say – has said, often – that it’s only a song and I’m reading too much into it. The inaccuracy of the criticism irritates me. The menacing lyrics are there for anyone and everyone to hear; there’s nothing ambiguous about them. Stuart would be closer to the truth if he accused me not of finding meaning in the words that isn’t there, but of imagining that ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is more than a song, which is of course scientifically impossible.

BOOK: The Orphan Choir
3.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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