The House on Cold Hill | Peter James | 2015, Pb 2016 | Macmillan | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
Ollie and Caro Harcourt have a wonderful marriage, their family completed by Jade, their 12-year-old daughter. After years of buying, doing up and then selling houses, the Harcourts are finally ready to find a home. They fall in love on sight with Cold Hill House, set in its own grounds, complete with lake, a few miles outside their home city of Brighton. The Georgian mansion is not in a good state of repair and, unfortunately, in his rush to buy his dream home, Ollie pays far less attention to the surveyors’ report than he should. Nevertheless, despite Jade’s understandable sulkiness at leaving her old friends (and new boyfriend) behind, the three Harcourts and their two cats are thrilled with their new house, which has more rooms than they can count. It’s such a shame that within days they discover that there is far more to worry about than damp, leaks, faulty electrics and plumbing, and rodent infestations.
It’s fair to say, as the Harcourts are advised, that any house as old as Cold Hill House is bound to have a whiff of scandal in its past, secrets, unhappiness, some skeletons in its cupboards. Perhaps it is to be expected that these will leave their mark in some way; that shadows, strange lights, a feeling of being watched, are an inevitable part of owning such a grand old building. Ollie is not easy to frighten. He’s a man immersed in the modern world, building websites for a living. Working from home, he enthusiastically grasps the chance to turn this old house into their dream home, spending his hours with builders, trying not to worry about the cost. But soon even Ollie has to question whether the house is quite as happy with the arrangement.
I love a good ghost story and The House on Cold Hill is a thoroughly enjoyable and, at times, deliciously chilling haunted house tale which, while being very traditional in some ways, brings the familiar theme into the present day. The balance of the normal with the not-normal is perfectly done, helped by the appeal of the Harcourt family. Much of the story is told through Ollie’s eyes and he’s an engaging and likeable man, dreaming of achieving the perfect life for his family that he adores. We don’t get to know Caro as well and so, until the novel is well underway, we’re less sure of Caro’s own relationship to the house. Neither she nor Ollie want to spoil the dream. As for the lovely Jade, she’s far more resilient than one might expect and a lot of fun to be around, with her own aspirations revolving around owning a labradoodle. But then there’s the not-normal side of this dream life to deal with. It’s surprising how much Ollie is able – and willing – to explain away, but there is a line waiting to be crossed.
The House on Cold Hill is in places a frightening and disturbing novel. The mood darkens further as Ollie learns more about the history of the house and its owners. I’m not going to give anything away here about any of the things that happen but I made a point of hurrying to finish the book before it got dark. It was on my mind overnight, though…
I enjoyed The House on Cold Hill so much. When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to read it and dived in straight away. I’m so glad I did. My only niggle with the book would be with the constant use of endearments (I felt the same with Peter James’s recent You Are Dead). This is a very minor point, though, and definitely down to personal taste. Apart from that, I can’t fault this wonderful ghost story which, as the pages flew by, took me deeper and deeper into the dark secrets of this coldest of houses. Step inside, if you dare.
You Are Dead