The House on Cold Hill by Peter James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an up to date version of the classic haunted house story. I used to be a big fan of Peter James many years ago but for some reason I stopped reading him despite hearing some great things about his recent work. It’s also been a while since I read any proper horror stories but I have to admit I love a good creepy ghost story so couldn’t resist this book.
Like all good haunted house tales it starts with a nice young family moving in to their new home. Ollie Harcourt is a website designer and Cara, his wife, is a solicitor. They have a daughter, Jade, who is twelve years old and two cats, Bombay and Sapphire (named after the gin).
They’ve made a bit of money from the sale of their previous home and Ollie’s business and mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy Cold Hill House. It’s an impressive big property which is in need of a lot of work however, despite Cara’s doubts, Ollie is confident that this could be their dream home. It’s not long though until they realise they aren’t alone in the house. As increasingly unexplainable things start to happen they begin digging into the history of the house and discover it’s dark past. Having ploughed all of their money into it they can’t afford to leave but is it safe to stay?
I thought this was a great example of a haunted house story. It has all of the classic creepy things I love such as faces at the windows of empty rooms, shadows moving in the next room and the cats behaving oddly. The author also manages to make it very current by building in more modern elements such as threatening text messages, some strange goings on with email and pictures appearing and disappearing from mobile phones. What I also liked was that the author didn’t resort to blood and gore to make it scary. There is a little but generally it’s a lot more subtle and for me creepier as a result. Events start quite slowly and escalate to a very gripping ending which I thought worked really well. I did think it lost a little pace in the middle but it definitely made up for it at the conclusion.
Main characters Ollie and Cara are likeable enough. They are sensible, rational and just want to be happy in their new home and do the best they can for daughter Jade. They have quite a stable and realistic relationship (there are the odd petty niggles but nothing too serious). Ollie is the adventurous entrepreneur and Cara is more of a pessimistic worrier but they balance each other out. For some reason though I couldn’t quite connect with them. I’m not entirely sure why. It may just be that they spent so much time worrying and being terrified or their determination to stay in the house and refusal to accept that anything is wrong. I found it so frustrating but I suppose if they’d thought “nah it’s a bit spooky here” and moved out there would have been no book.
The other characters only really appear briefly but they were definitely interesting and well described, from the builders working in the house to Cara’s psychic ex rocker client. One part I found fascinating was some of the alternative theories and explanations put forward by Ollie’s regular tennis opponent Bruce Kaplan, a computing science professor. It was good to have some kind of rational explanation as to what was happening even if it may not be true. It at least had the potential to make the existence of ghosts a bit more plausible for those who don’t believe.
Overall I thought this was an excellent and well written story with a good few chills. Definitely one for fans of ghost stories.
Note: This review is based on an ARC from NetGalley. It will be released on 8th October.
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