Category Archives: Horror

The Spirit Engineer by AJ West

Duckworth | 2021 | 304p | Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the audiobook

Belfast, 1914 and it is two years since the Titanic sank, taking with it to the cold dark depths William Jackson Crawford’s brother-in-law Arthur. William’s wife Elizabeth looks for comfort from medium Kathleen Goligher, who claims that restless spirits can speak through her. But William is a sceptic and a scientist who is determined to prove Kathleen a liar and fraud. But, when he attends an event to expose her, he hears voices that he cannot explain, intensified after further tragic events. Could it be that the rational scientist and teacher is himself haunted? William Jackson Crawford must know and his obsessive investigations attracts celebrity attention. But then William, the famous Spirit Engineer, begins his own experiments and enters the darkness.

I’m a big fan of historical gothic novels and The Spirit Engineer is a novel I couldn’t wait to read. I actually listened to the audiobook, which is wonderfully read by Dickon Farmar. This is a story that really lends itself to that format and gave it an extra creepy atmosphere. Excellent. The novel begins with tragedy and the reader is well aware that soon, this being 1914, there will be many more restless souls, people dying before their time on the battlefields of northern Europe. But, for Belfast, the loss of the Titanic is an immediate source of grief and questions about the nature of life and death. William Jackson Crawford, a real person and Professor of Engineering, can’t reconcile his wife’s need to commune with the dead with his own scientific query for fact. But then he hadn’t suffered his own tragedy quite yet.

This is an extremely atmospheric and pretty disturbing novel. It begins in normality, with William suspecting his wife of having an affair, thanks to some strange letters from their former maid who left in mysterious circumstances. But the more William becomes obsessed, the darker the book becomes. And it’s then that you start to take notice of the shadows in the room.

There are moments of surreal lightness, such as when William attracts the attention of celebrities of the day, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini, but we’re entering the world of the macabre and gothic melodrama as we descend deeper into William’s mind. My one stumbling block in the novel was how absolutely despicable William Jackson Crawford is and being in his mind is not a pleasant place to be as the novel and his madness progress. His cruelty and the distress he causes are upsetting. But The Spirit Engineer is a powerful novel and it presents a compelling portrait of a man’s spiral into darkness.

The Spirit Engineer is a genuinely frightening novel, steeped in atmosphere, with a witty edge. The author’s achievement is even more incredible when you realise that this is a true story. AJ West finds the heart of it. Perfect reading or listening for these winter nights.

Wish You Weren’t Here by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Farrago | 2021 (14 October) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

Wish You Weren't Here by Gabby Hutchinson CrouchGhost hunters have never been so busy. The cases are building up for the Rook family but this job should be a quickie. They’ve headed for Coldbay Island, a small island off the coast of Lincolnshire, where they have been hired by the local vicar Grace Barry to rid her church of an angry spirit that likes nothing more than to smash the place up. But Brenda and her son Darryl see such things as they cross the bridge onto the island – ghosts are everywhere they look, sad and lost spirits, far too many for Brenda’s sister Charity to pop out of this realm. The island appears to be deserted of the living and it soon becomes clear that this will be no quick case. Indeed, the Rooks are soon rather concerned that they’re all that stands between the world and the apocalypse.

When I picked up Wish You Weren’t Here, the first in a new series, I had little idea what to expect. I hadn’t read a novel by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch before and I have a bit of a hit and miss relationship with novels of the supernatural. But what a treat I had in store for me. This is an absolute belter of a book! It’s about 300 pages, so all too short and leaves me wanting book 2, but every page counts.

I loved everything about this book. The author introduces us to the Rook family with great skill – Brenda and her husband Richard, their grown children Darryl and Charity, and Darryl’s husband Janusz who looks after the books. Each of these wonderful people feels so real. They have flaws – some a bit more significant (and downright absolutely terrifying) than others. They also have skills. Oddly, perhaps Janusz, the only ‘normal’ one among them, is the most extraordinary because he holds them all together, protecting and loving them, and he is the subject of what I found to be the most terrifying scene of the book.

The setting on this creepy, cold island is fantastic. And that made me accept everything that happens. It’s both realistic and fantastical, thanks to its separation from the mainland of northeast England via that frightening bridge. It’s no wonder the ghosts are depressed.

The writing is fabulous. It’s dark but it is also very funny (the dialogue had me cracking up time after time!). Tragedy lies at the heart of much of its humour. I also found it genuinely frightening and disturbing, despite the Ghostbusters feel of some of it. There is also a sadness surrounding the ghosts as we’re given glimpses of their living past. Wish You Weren’t Here might be short but it contains such a lot.

Wish You Weren’t Here is funny, dark and full of great characters and cameos, whether living, dead or undead. The setting on a creepy island off Lincolnshire seems entirely fitting for a potential apocalypse. This is fabulous writing and it’s quite incredible how much depth, how many full relationships, the author packs into such a short novel. I cannot wait for book 2. This is quite easily one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year and is perfect for a spooky October read!

The Noise by James Patterson and J.D. Barker

Century | 2021 (5 August) | 421p | Review copy | Buy the book

Terror has come to Mount Hood in Oregon and Tennant Riggin and her much younger sister Sophie are the only survivors from a small community of people living off the grid. Everyone has either vanished or their bodies have been smashed to pieces. The government gathers together a group of scientists, experts in, among other things, the environment, in medicine, in space. They are sealed off from the rest of the world as they study this terrible phenomenon – death is brought by a catastrophic noise and it seems there is a pattern to it. Psychologist Martha Chan believes the answers can be found with Tennant and Sophie but, with the noise spreading, will there be time to save humanity?

I love a good thriller and The Noise was irresistible to me. It’s got the lot – science fiction, horror, mystery and speculation, apocalyptic threat, action, goodies, baddies, all set within the spectacular and isolated mountains and forests of Oregon. The authors are also a draw, bringing together thrills and horror, and they do it very well.

The Noise is a fast read. It races along, with short chapters which move between the protagonists – the sisters, the scientists, the military, the President and his advisors. It’s all thoroughly entertaining but what gives this novel an edge is the nature of its mystery. I was fascinated by the noise and really wanted to know what it’s all about. Is it manmade, is it alien, is it supernatural? What is it?

Martha Chan is a sympathetic character but, surprisingly, I was most drawn to Lt Col Fraser’s story. He is in many ways the perfect soldier but he battles the noise more than most and his struggle against it is really involving.

There are also some interesting takes on horror themes, such as zombies, and It reminded me a little of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig but in many ways it’s very different. Its ending is absolutely brilliant to my mind. This is a horror thriller that totally delivers at the end and, when you know why, it makes you realise just how clever the novel has been, as well as exciting and tense. The authors of The Noise are a winning partnership and I really hope for more from them.

Other reviews
With Marshall Karp – NYPD Red 5
With Bill Clinton – The President is Missing
With Bill Clinton – The President’s Daughter
With Brendon DuBois – The First Lady

The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy

Hodder & Stoughton | 2021 10 June) | 290p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Ninth Metal by Benjamin PercyThe mining town of Northfall, Minnesota, was already dying before the night it was hit by a devastating shower of meteorites. On the same night, a young boy’s life is changed forever by the murder of his parents, a deed that is overshadowed by the discovery that the meteorites contain an unknown metal, the Ninth, which is more precious than gold and more useful than any known element. Now the world is coming to Northfall. Anyone can become a millionaire but the biggest money is for those who own land. Northfall has become a new Wild West and at the heart of it stands one family, the Frontiers.

Benjamin Percy is such a good writer of speculative fiction and The Ninth Metal has it all – science fiction, horror, apocalypse and disaster, crime, all set within the world of what feels like a modern Western as Northfall becomes the focus of a frenzied Gold Rush (strictly speaking, an Omnimental Rush). The novel is populated by big characters, especially the enigmatic John Frontier and his utterly horrifying sister Talia, but there are other memorable people here, too, both monstrous and innocent, all transformed in the five years since the meteorites hit. Some are little more than gangsters in a violent battle to control land while others have become a cult with the strange metal their object of veneration. There is a lot of life in this town. There is chaos, mystery and more than a little fear. For one boy and the scientist who looks after him, there is terror.

The Ninth Metal is the first novel in a new series, The Comet Cycle. As a result, we don’t get all of the answers but it does have a satisfactory and tantalising end. It left me wanting more without feeling that I’d been left on the edge of a cliff. It tells a great story, packed into about 300 pages. It moves between the present, the night of the fire from the sky, and the following few years. It’s a very fast read. There wasn’t as much science fiction as I would have liked but I suspect that there is more of that to come in book 2 and so I can’t wait to read that.

I thought that there was very much a Stephen King-y feel to the novel, and that is a good thing – a small town at the centre of something horrific, powerful and apocalyptic, even religious, and where salvation may also be found. It’s a novel about good and evil in a dying town cut off from the rest of the world. There’s a sense that people may leave but they will always return. It works on small and epic scales as we realise that what is happening to Northfall could have apocalyptic consequences for everyone. We don’t yet know the nature of what is happening and what it all means but we really want to know!

The Ninth Metal is a fabulous book. I was thoroughly gripped and I cannot wait for book 2.

Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims

Gollancz | 2020 (26 November) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Banyan Court is a thirteen-storey high residential block, nestled within London. One half of the building is enjoyed by the very wealthy; the other half is social housing, its tenants uncared for and regularly evicted. At the very top, in his penthouse, lives Tobias Fell, the reclusive billionaire who designed and built Banyan Court. Many of the residents have a tale to tell about this building that they live in and here we are presented with the stories of twelve of them. These men, women and children live in both sides of Banyan Court, or they service it in some way – a security guard, a plumber, a letting agent. And each of the stories ends with the teller receiving an invitation to attend a party in Tobias Fell’s penthouse, a party from which, we are told at the very beginning, Tobias Fell will not emerge alive and yet not one of his guests saw a thing.

I love a ghost story, even better the tale of a haunted house, and in Thirteen Storeys Jonathan Sims gives us just that, but with a modern twist – it is a city tower block. Each of the residents lives independently from the others. We do meet people more than once (which can add a touch of something extra menacing as well as being rather entertaining as we see how the stories are related) but generally their lives are self-contained. This means that the novel comprises thirteen distinct ghost or horror stories. As you’d expect, some are better than others and, regrettably, the first story was my least favourite, which meant I did have to push past it, but I am so glad I did. There is some fantastic storytelling going on here and Banyan Court begins to take on a life of its own – a terrifying, horrifying life, all watched over by Tobias Fell.

I loved some of these stories! They are so imaginative and are all very different, signposted by the eerie chapter headings. We have invisible friends, an insane yet caring flat AI, a haunted painting, a sinister stain on the wall and so much more as each of the stories takes us deeper into the fabric of Banyan Court, into its hidden places, its secrets. But what does it all mean? The answer to that is the absolute joyous achievement of this very creepy, sinister, dark and brilliantly executed novel.

I listened to the audiobook, which is extremely successful, not least because each of the stories is narrated by a different reader. This really works to bring the residents alive and is particularly effective in the final, completely brilliant chapter when everything comes together. My only problem was that I did have some difficulty remembering who was who on occasion. But this was far outweighed by my enjoyment in listening to the different voices.

This is the perfect read for a dark wintry night as you glance at the walls of your home and wonder what stories they might have to tell about those who live on the other side. Excellent!

Devolution by Max Brooks

Century | 2020 (16 June) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

Devolution by Max BrooksWhen relationship trouble means that Frank McCray can no longer bear to live alone in his house in paradise, his sister Kate Holland and her husband Dan are thrilled to move in. They needed to do something drastic to save their own marriage. It would not survive much longer on the California coast. And so they switch Venice Beach for the isolated, high-end, high-tech eco-community of Greenloop in the foothills of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The small hamlet was founded by high-tech CEO Tony Durant, who also lives there with his wife. The latest gadgets are installed in the houses and supplies are brought in by drone or driverless vehicle. But they are surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery, the perfect environment to thrive in away from the ratrace. And, besides, Seattle, is only a couple of hours away. It is the best of both worlds and Kate Holland loves it, recording her happiness and excitement in a journal for her therapist.

All is perfect. Until, just a few days after she and Dan move in, Mount Rainier erupts. Greenloop survives that but can it survive whatever it is that has lived undetected in the mountains and forests for thousands of years, that has now been driven down off the mountain, wild and hungry.

Max Brooks is a master of survival horror. In World War Z mankind had to survive a plague of zombies. Now, it’s the turn of a small isolated community in an increasingly wintry wilderness to survive an onslaught of Big Foot (one can’t help but wonder if the plural would be Big Foots or Big Feet…). I love this sort of thriller and so Devolution is irresistible. There’s also more to it than you might have thought from the premise.

This novel is as much about people and how they get along and manage together as it is about invading, murderous Big Foot apes. And also as time goes on thought is given to these apes. Can they be blamed for their behaviour? They want to survive every bit as much as the humans do. This discussion develops along with the action in a way that I found really interesting.

The majority of the book comprises Kate’s journal entries. She introduces us to the other misfits who have ended up in this strangest of communities, which seems to have been built on the premise that the distant wilderness is safe if you can fly in your groceries and control your house lights with your smartphone. These are fascinating people. We also get to know more about Kate’s relationship with her husband. This remains obscured by shadows. Clearly something has happened that has altered Dan in some way and Kate spends much of her time studying the effects of this place and its people, especially the curious Mostar, on Dan.

Scattered throughout the book are interviews (by our author persona) with Kate’s brother and the senior ranger Jennifer Schell who discovered Kate’s journal in the ruins of Greenloop. The author throughout has to question whether any of this is true. I loved this structure. It’s done brilliantly and really ramps up the tension, which does get very high indeed.

I enjoyed the idea that mankind can regress when in the wild, that the wild can’t be tamed, and, perhaps, that humans are no different from the sasquatch in all the ways that matter. Ultimately, though, Devolution is a horror thriller and it is a thoroughly exciting one. I may never camp in the wilds again.

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

Quercus | 2020 (2 April) | 354p | Review copy | Buy the book

Magpie Lane by Lucy AtkinsDee becomes a person of interest to the police when 8-year-old Felicity disappears from her Oxford home. Dee is Felicity’s nanny and Felicity is no ordinary child. She is the daughter of Nick, the new high-profile Master of one of Oxford’s colleges, and the stepdaughter of Nick’s glamorous and pregnant Danish wife, Mariah. Felicity is selectively mute. She hardly ever speaks and, when she does, it’s only to her father and never to Mariah. But now she speaks to Dee, the Scottish nanny who feels drawn to this strange child, who collects bones and other creepy things, arranging them in enigmatic patterns on her bedroom floor, to keep her safe from the ghosts she believes haunts her home, an old college building with a past. Dee joins forces with a curious and eccentric house historian, Linklater, to try and help Felicity understand what secrets the house hides. This is Dee’s side of the story and when Felicity vanishes what are the police to think?

I was so excited to read Magpie Lane and for two very good reasons. I loved Lucy Atkins’ previous novel The Night Visitor, with its gorgeously told creepy tale of the relationship between a writer and the housekeeper of a manor house. Secondly, Magpie Lane is set in my hometown of Oxford. I know well the lane, with its infamous history, that names the novel and I love where this book takes us – into the old colleges, the back lanes and alleys, the hidden churchyards, as well as into its stuffy and old traditions. This can be a claustrophobic place, especially if you’re not used to it and are unfamiliar with Oxford’s ‘town and gown’ divisions. For all its faults, this is the Oxford I know and love and, although it’s stifling at times, it is also so beautiful and so full of history.

This Oxford is exactly what Lucy Atkins captures in Magpie Lane. Dee is an outsider, just like Nick and Mariah, and they resist its charm. Mariah removes all of the portraits of men’s heads from their lodgings. Nick is a television figure and an unpopular Master. He isn’t one to cope with the restrictions of his college’s Governing Body. He and Mariah see their stay in Oxford to be transitory, and so, too, does Dee. She’s reluctant to take the job at all. But then she falls for Felicity and Linklater comes along, a man who couldn’t be more steeped in Oxford tradition and history if he tried. He is almost part of its buildings, forgotten and neglected by the city that he has felt unable to escape. The descriptions of Oxford and its hidden places are so gorgeously done. I especially enjoyed the pages we spend exploring the quiet and secret churchyards, where so many familiar and significant figures rest unnoticed.

Felicity is a part of this world. Although this is on one level a missing child crime novel, that’s not really what Magpie Lane is about. This is the story of Dee, Felicity and Linklater, as told by Dee. There is a strong supernatural feel to it. There are moments that are genuinely disturbing. Felicity herself is the novel’s haunted child, while her home makes for a perfect haunted house. Linklater is almost the exorcist. Dee herself is a mystery. Glimpses of her past are revealed throughout and this is complemented by the questioning from the police, one of whom is intriguingly named Faraday (Dee really does seem to be inside a Faraday cage at times), which makes the reader also ask questions about the truth of what Dee has told us. Each chapter begins and ends with more of the interrogation, again told by Dee to us. In between the questions, Dee reveals more about her relationship with Felicity, Linklater and Felicity’s parents. It is utterly engrossing and not a little creepy.

Linklater is my favourite character of the novel. What a wonderful creation he is! He is completely eccentric, almost humorously so, but he also feels like a tragic character to me. He, too, is stuck in a cage, like Dee and like Felicity. I enjoyed his presence in the novel very much indeed.

Magpie Lane is such a delight. It’s clever, always beautifully written and its characters are all enormously involving, even Nick and especially Mariah, his wife who slowly unravels before our eyes. It’s a puzzle to work out as we try and understand Dee while we fall deeply for the troubled Felicity, just as Dee does. And all the time we’re reminded of the past forcing its way into the present. The past surrounds and fills this house. Lucy Atkins captures the atmosphere and chills of this perfectly, making Magpie Lane an irresistible and always entertaining read.

Other review
The Night Visitor

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Bantam Press | 2020 (5 March) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Deep by Alma KatsuIt is 1916 and Annie Hebbley has just joined the ship Britannic as a nurse. This enormous ship, a sister ship to Titanic, has been drafted into war service, ferrying the injured and dying from the battlefields of southern Europe back home to Britain. This marks the start of a new life for Annie and it’s one she’s lucky to have, for Annie was a maid aboard Titanic. It was a miracle that she survived but she’s spent the time since in an asylum. But now she has hope of recovery even if it means she must return to the sea and the sea is something that both calls to Annie and terrifies her.

In a story that moves between 1912 and 1916, life aboard both grand ships is brought to life, especially on the Titanic as Annie waits upon and almost befriends some of the most famous and glamorous passengers of the Titanic, including Madeleine Astor, the scandalously young and pregnant bride of one of the richest men in America, as well as Mark Fletcher, his wife and baby, whom Annie is especially drawn to. But all is not as it seems and the mood darkens, the further the ship sails across the black, cold waters of the Atlantic. Strange things are seen, voices heard. Annie is plagued by demons on a voyage that is doomed and, as she sets sail on Britannic, she knows that they follow her still.

I am such a big fan of Alma Katsu’s The Hunger and so I couldn’t wait to read The Deep, even more so when I learned it was set aboard (and overboard) two tragic ships, Titanic and Britannic. The fate of both ships is well known and it provides the perfect subject for historical horror. It’s extremely hard to resist.

Much of the novel focuses on the doomed voyage of the Titanic and I absolutely adored the sections set aboard this ship. It’s brought to life with the most exquisite descriptions of life on board, especially for those rich enough to sail in first class. We spend time with several of the passengers, learning about their lives, fears, hopes and secrets. This is a voyage to a new life in some cases. It’s a symbolic passage for several, including Annie. The future looks wide open and optimistic as they sail to the promised land. But that’s not reckoning on the malignant and horrifying entity that haunts this ship and the people on it.

The Deep is a glamorous novel, not surprisingly because it features so many glamorous people, but it is a horror novel and there are moments in it when it does frighten. I didn’t find its horror as believable or as frightening as in The Hunger, there’s something not quite right about its reveal in my opinion, but, nevertheless, it’s a wonderfully written book and it does a brilliant job of recreating the experiences of those aboard the Titanic. The sinking scenes are fantastically done. I was glued to the page.

I think Alma Katsu is such an interesting writer and I love the ways in which she combines history with horror. The descriptions are so richly evocative of place and time and the mood is so intensely charged with atmosphere, dread and tension. I just can’t get enough of books such as this and so I long for the next.

Other review
The Hunger

Possessed by Peter Laws

Allison & Busby | 2020 (20 February) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Possessed by Peter LawsOne morning, milkman Phil Pepper has the shock of his life. He discovers a naked man soaked in blood, his behaviour wild and terrifying, the name of a demon carved into his stomach flesh – Baal-Berith. Professor Matt Hunter, a former minister and now an atheist and an expert on satanism and the supernatural, is called in by the police. He tells them that Baal-Berith is the demonic spirit of blasphemy and murder and therefore it should come as no surprise when a body is discovered, horribly killed. The media and the public are fascinated by the case and a debate begins about demons, possession and exorcism. Matt becomes caught up in a frenzy that spins out of control, but he is determined to help those who believe themselves possessed, striving to remain the voice of reason, even when he is tested to his very limits.

I am such a huge fan of the Matt Hunter series and I couldn’t wait to read Possessed, the fourth. The books all work brilliantly as a series, and there is a pleasure in watching Matt Hunter’s story develop, but each novel can be read and enjoyed on its own. I do suggest you read them all though. They’re fantastic books.

Possessed is genuinely thrilling and extremely disturbing in such a good way. The opening is brilliant and the dark and chilling mood doesn’t ease for an instant, while the pace and thrills build and build to such an extent that I found this book ridiculously difficult to put down. It’s one of the most gripping novels I’ve read for a while, while also being one of the most frightening. Some of the ‘clients’ in this book are truly horrifying, not least because sometimes they seem just like you and me.

Matt Hunter is a great character and one of the reasons why these books are so successful is because Matt is such a likeable and warm person. He’s been through trauma, and he’s working through that with his lovely family, but he always thinks of others first, even when this gets him into serious danger. I love the way that Peter Laws brings Matt alive. The dialogue is often wonderfully funny and provides such a contrast to the other moments of terror.

Possessed is a fantastically written, witty and involving novel, that’s both horror and crime, the two working together very well indeed. It has an incredible story and a terrific hero. I’ve loved all of these books but, if forced to choose between them, I think Possessed could well be my favourite. This series is unmissable.

Other reviews

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

HQ | 2019 (31 October) | 453p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Lost Ones by Anita FrankIt is 1917 and Stella Marcham is stricken by grief for the loss of her fiancé Gerald, killed in the trenches of France during the Great War, a war which shows no signs of ending. There are still many young men whose lives the war waits to claim. Stella’s family find Stella’s grief hard to deal with and, as the months pass, suspect a mental weakness. They find a solution. Stella’s sister Madeleine is pregnant. Her husband has moved her away from London to the safety of the countryside and his manor house, Greyswick, and the care of his mother, Lady Brightwell, while he continues his war work in the capital. She needs a companion. Both sisters are delighted to see each other and draw comfort from the other. But Stella is worried by how she finds her sister. Madeleine seems unsettled, unhappy, even frightened, and when Stella finds a little toy soldier tucked inside her bed she begins to understand that something is not right with this house. And then the nights are disturbed by the sound of a child crying. A child that cannot possibly exist.

I love a good ghost story and I am drawn to tales of haunted houses and there is something extra chilling and sad about those which are set during the First World War, a time when many wives and mothers were drawn to learn about the spirit world due to the untimely, violent loss of their men and boys. The Lost Ones is beautifully written, with its gorgeous prose as haunted by a lost world as the house is. The descriptions of Greyswick and its grounds are evocative and powerful and the novel has such a strong sense of time, place and mood.

The heart of the novel, though, lies with its cast of characters, in particular Stella and her maid Annie Burrows. Annie’s relationship with Stella is a fascinating one. They’re from different classes and experiences but the two of them are drawn together by what they witness in the house. Annie’s past, as the daughter of a man who died trying to save Stella’s sister in a fire, casts a shadow over the relationship and the novel. Annie is hard to know. We’re presented this world from upstairs, in Stella’s words, in comfort. But Annie’s voice breaks through and it adds a real edge to the novel. Then there are the women who live in the house – Lady Brightwell, her companion and the housekeeper. Each is a scene stealer. Possibly the only character who doesn’t linger in the mind is Madeleine. It’s as if the house has stolen her true self away and she must leave to save herself.

The ghost story is such a good one. It’s poignant and sad and at times pleasingly frightening. There is also another side to things – the treatment of women in the early 20th century, the issue of mental health and grief, male domination of society and the home, and the role of women as both victim and oppressor. Stella had experienced an independent life in France as a nurse. She now has no independence at all. But The Lost Ones is also a novel about love. The moments when Stella remembers the precious, short time she shared with Gerald are upsetting but there comes a time when they start to give her comfort. This is something she has to work through. Just as the house itself must endure darkness before it can re-emerge.

The Lost Ones is an excellent and extremely atmospheric haunted house story set at a time stricken by loss due to the First World War. In this atmosphere of loss, grief, worry and traumatic memories, ghosts thrive. But what is it they’re trying to say? I loved the characters and I really enjoyed exploring the house. I did guess the outcome and there was some predictability but nevertheless this novel is beautifully written and evocative of time and place, just what you need for these long dark evenings.

And what a gorgeous hardback!