Recently laid off from her tenure track as an English Professor, Emily Murry can’t turn down the chance to study the journals of one of her favourite authors. Joined by another early 20thcentury literature specialist and historians of art, architecture and landscape, Emily and the team have the summer to work out the secrets of Gnarled Hollow on behalf of the new owner.
What they soon discover is a house full of mystery, cruelty and pain; unhappy childhoods, miserable lives, tortured artists and nasty secrets. The author Emily so loved, somehow a lost voice from a famous social set, turns out to be somebody completely unexpected, and the story of her life, and that of her siblings, tests the specialists employed to investigate in ways they could never have imagined.
Hands up I am not a horror reader, or film watcher, I don’t do ghosts and things that go bump in the night, but this had me hooked from the start.
Emily is a wholly sympathetic character who engages the reader from the opening scenes. Her need for the work, along with her desire to study the author, puts her in a position of vulnerability from the beginning. When Gnarled Hollow starts playing its tricks it is impossible not to get swept up in the fear of the situation, but also the drive to find out why the house is as it is.
The other main characters are well drawn, each playing a role, each reacting differently to the unfolding situation, giving us an interesting psychological study of how people react to the paranormal. The gentle romance between Emily and June is both a subplot and adds a strand of the angst, but definitely doesn’t define the book; this is a paranormal mystery/horror first, a historical whodunnit second and only then a romance.
The language and descriptions are excellent, it is easy to visualise the house, grounds and specific rooms; the creepy bathroom, the 1920’s pool house, the claustrophobic steam room and the attic prison. Greene has done an outstanding job of weaving in all sorts of layers; mysterious patterns in the gardens, missing rooms, odd disappearances, blandly boring journals, unknown artwork, and each mystery is eventually revealed as part of the horrific whole.
Combined with intensely emotional descriptions of the fear the characters experience as they are targeted by the tortured spirit and this book is genuinely a page turner… not only could I not sleep after reading it, I didn’t want to put it down. And the resolution, the tying up of ends and completion of the story arc is excellent, a very satisfying read.
I’m not converted, but I thoroughly enjoyed pushing my ghostly boundaries; highly recommended and perfect for Halloween.
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(publisher review copy received)
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