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THE HAUNTED MAJOR by Robert Marshall

THE HAUNTED MAJOR

By Robert Marshall

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-88001-669-8
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

This 1902 novel by a little-known Scots writer (1863—1910) makes a first US appearance in a new edition garnished with the lively original illustrations (by artist Harry Furniss) and an appreciative send-off by John Updike, who in his introduction calls it “a curious amalgam of religious history, Edwardian foppery, and golfing madness.” Just so, for this tale of spiritual possession and social comeuppance feels much like a lost work by P.G. Wodehouse—who expressed admiration for Marshall’s odd little masterpiece. The narrator and principal character is Major (of Hussars) John Gore, a supremely egotistical fellow and a self-renowned sportsman. When the widower Gore resolves to marry, handsome Katherine Clavering Gunter is discovered to be an “ardent golfer”—and, furthermore, the apparent cynosure of the annoyingly keen eye of championship golfer Jim Lindsay. Our hero thus subdues his contempt for a “sport” that offers no physical risk (and which he has never played) and challenges the affable Lindsay to a match whose prize will be the unobstructed path to Mrs. Gunter’s hand. Gore’s expertise at manly games like polo proves irrelevant (as his exasperated caddy observes, “Ye’ll no hae a hoarse to help ye at goalf”), and all seems lost . . . until the ghost of a Scots prelate, Cardinal Smeaton, offers supernatural aid—the unassuming Lindsay being, as the Cardinal confides, a descendant “o‘ ane of my maist determined foes.” The great match at St. Magnus is described in suitably mock-heroic accents; Gore vacillates suspensefully between employing the Cardinal’s “bewitched clubs” and his own minimal skills; and the story concludes ridiculously well for all concerned, leading to an ingenious (triple) surprise ending. A most enjoyable rediscovery in the “sporting” tradition that extends back to the pre-Dickensian Jorrock’s Jaunts and Jollities.