Top positive review
Gripping, but with a couple flaws
Reviewed in the United States on July 1, 2020
I love a good haunted house story. And as a skeptic myself, albeit one with a love for supernatural fiction, I also love a story that's about the search for truth behind apparently supernatural events. This book ticks all those boxes, so I dug into it with great eagerness. What I found was a book that kept me thoroughly entertained throughout--I read it in a single day, with only a couple short breaks--but nevertheless had a couple flaws.
Let's start with the good stuff. The writing is top quality, and the pacing is definitely on point. The characters are reasonably well-developed, and the dual (past and present) story lines manage to work surprisingly well (though the narrative voice is perhaps a bit too similar between the alternating sections). I particularly like the way the author manages to simultaneously build suspense and keep the reader flip-flopping regarding what actually happened, and the blend of supernatural and skeptical is both intriguing and narratively effective.
However, I have two complaints. First, the story starts off feeling a bit too familiar. Family flees haunted house, writes a book, and their adult child returns decades later to find out what really happened. Following numerous real-world scandals involving families' fraudulent claims of supernatural terrors in their homes, this plot has become well-trod. That doesn't mean it can't be effective, but it does mean that, while we might enjoy the same old tropes, if a book really wants to stand out, it needs to bring something new to the table. Early on, it doesn't really look like this book will bring anything new to the table. The first half or so reads like a well told version of the story, but fundamentally the same old story none the less. However, fortunately, though I won't spoil exactly what they are, there are some twists, beginning about halfway through the book, that call the familiar into question and leave the reader guessing and turning the pages right until the ending.
The ending itself is a mixed bag, however. Again, I won't spoil anything, but I find myself conflicted between acknowledging that the novel's conclusion certainly does wrap everything up and feeling like some of the revelations, offered in fairly rapid succession in the book's final chapters, while logically sound, still undercut some of the book's tension. I've said many times (in reviews of other books and films, and in other places) that ending a horror novel is a tricky business, because it requires balancing the reader's need for narrative closure against the simple fact that the unknown is scarier than the known. This novel definitely suffers from the same problem. It's not that the ending is entirely unsatisfactory--it actually does a good job of concluding the story--but rather that once the reader has too much information, the story simply isn't all that scary any more.
All that having been said, despite my couple of complaints (which I guess can be viewed as one complaint resolving the other), I found this to be an excellent novel on the whole, and I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a good spooky tale.