Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
Priest is one of my favorites. Two of her books, as a matter of fact, sit on my favorites shelf. That said, I probably went easier on this book because of that when, in my opinion, the book completely falls apart in the last act.
Well, to be fair, it doesn't fall apart so much as it stagnates. Let's start at the beginning: I had high hopes. The first night I read this, it actually frightened me enough that I questioned my own sanity in navigating my apartment in the darkness, thinking about what could be in it waiting for me. That's what the build-up does, it sets a wonderful atmosphere for the Withrow house that anyone who has lived in a big, dark home with a penchant for making unexplained noises will recognize.
The characters are what really hooked me. I loved Dahlia. I usually love Priest's characters, but it was nice to see one of the female characters come to the forefront without having to have a male character observe or comment. Her relationship with her cousin Bobby, and his son, her other cousin Gabe, made for a really interesting dynamic, and it promised something the book never delivered, and that's a look at how unsettling and sad family relations can be.
That was my read on the book, at first. Even the title of the book seemed to be pointing to this, that it would lead to being an examination of familial dysfunction, in the past and the present. And if it had played out like that, I would have loved this book. But it turns into something stale instead. The book gives you information a hundred pages before it presents it to you formally and still expects you to be surprised. Like, for instance, why should it come as some huge revelation that Abigail was formally locked in a sanitarium and given intense hyrdrotherapy when Dahlia not only had the experience of being shocked under the shower stream in the bathroom, but even shared Abigail's memories of the tubs with the straps on them, etc.?
I also liked that the ghosts seemed to be reaching out to Gabe at first. It reminded me of those 80's horror movies, like Poltergeist, and also let the other characters interact and grow without the focus of the ghost story on them. Bobby and Dahlia's best scene comes where Gabe disappears for a moment or two to commune with a ghost.
The problem with the reveal is that it actually means nothing. Revealing what happened in the past (which was, by the way, already revealed in bits and pieces, and yet we're still supposed to be in awe, I guess, of seeing it firsthand) has absolutely no impact, it's not going to break a curse or let the ghost's spirit go free. There's literally no reason for it to happen. And the magic ghost time traveling flashback is something used it dumb, cheap horror movie for people who are not creative enough to find other ways to unveil the story.
The house, we're told, is angry, but the book is actually so free from anger, that I never got that from it whatsoever. Dahlia just seems tired and a little desperate, and most of all sad. The house? Mildly peevish. The relationship that should exist between Dahlia and the house just isn't there, especially with her sympathy having fled her early on. It's the biggest misfire, and what the book relies on in the last act.
And worst of all? we have a Blumhouse-type jumpscare at the end of the book. Do you know what it's like reading the silly tropes that bad movies rely on? Bad. It's bad. As annoying as a jumpscare and fade to black might be in a movie, it works, more or less, in a visual medium. But it left me with no end of questions in the book, and also left me so dissatisfied that she ever thought this was a clever way to end the story.
It's too subtle to be The Shining, and not subtle enough to be something like The Haunting of Hill House. It exists in a strange sort of limbo in between. Where a lot of mediocre horror tales do, I'm sad to say.