Jo Fletcher Books, out now
A haunted house story with heart.
After last year’s excellent Path of Needles – which blended crime with fairy tale mythology – Alison Littlewood turns her attentions back to the paranormal which permeated her debut novel, A Cold Season. This time, however, the focus is on a haunted house – Mire House to be exact.
When Emma Dean, who is still recovering from the sad loss of her own parents, inherits this particular house from a distant relation she didn’t really know, she thinks at first that she shouldn’t really take it. But, upon visiting the place, she feels a connection she can’t really put her finger on; more than that, she feels like Mire House is hers. And, when Charlie Mitchell, the grandson of the original owner shows up, she also feels a certain connection with him… Although when strange things begin to happen, Emma has to wonder what she’s gotten herself into.
Flash back to 1973 and we get Frank Watt’s story, a lad who inadvertently gets involved in taunting the old man who lives at Mire House, something which eventually ends in tragedy in more ways than one. Then back even further to 1939, where we meet farm girl Aggie, who lives with her family – including a brother about to head off to war – and is curious about the woman who had Mire House built and now lives there, alone. And finally we return to the present and see how all this dovetails with Emma, leading up to an ending with more than one twist in store.
Whilst definitely following in the tradition of books like The Haunting of Hill House and The Woman in Black, not to mention recent TV shows like Marchlands and Lightfields, The Unquiet House takes the basic haunted house skeleton and fleshes it out with some original and startling ideas. There’s a brilliantly claustrophobic scene which really makes you feel like you’re trapped, not to mention the dangers of the mire itself – which the house is named after – and I’ve never seen items of clothing made scary before now.
Add to this well-rounded characters who we really come to care about in each of the timelines, plus the detailed research that must have gone into the older eras which gives the story an air of authenticity, and you have a potential modern classic on your hands. Perfect Halloween and Christmas evening reading, though why wait till then? The summer months may be coming, but there’ll be a chill in the air once you start turning the pages.
It certainly makes you wonder what will be next from this author, and makes you look forward to it all the more.
Verdict: A novel you won’t want to stay quiet about. 9/10