Sunday, 17 September 2017

House of Spines by Michael J Malone

"It occurred to him that each book top was like the knuckle of a vertebrae. He sat up, head reeling. He could see bones everywhere. He was living in a house of spines."

A few chapters in to Michael J Malone's new book House of Spines and I'm wondering; can Malone really pull off a gothic horror story set in contemporary Glasgow? The set up is interesting, down on his luck writer Ranald learns, out of the blue, that he has inherited a country house from an unknown Uncle who has specifically called for the house, and its well endowed library, to be handed to his nephew upon his death.

As unlikely as this twist of fate seems Ranald is soon in a cab heading over to the estate where he'll meet his Uncle's lawyer and the housekeeper who manages the house with her husband. Its a classic 'Why me?' moment for Ran but is there anything in his late mother's behaviour that might of hinted at her wealthy family roots? He has nothing else to do so may as well investigate.

House of Spines contains all the classic gothic horror tropes from kooky house keepers to broken lifts and eerie sounds coming from the walls. When a mysterious cousin turns up to contest the will you know you're in safe hands with Malone who evidently has a clear talent for storytelling. Malone delivers a page turner that is (thematically at least) the love child of Daphne Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel and Stephen King's The Shining.

Ran is a believable character whose ability to both trust and challenge those around him makes him convincing and real. When his world turns upside down we empathise with him and root for the truth to emerge from his twisted family history; "I'm pretty certain that every generation of your family has had its victims, Ran. You need to break that cycle and get the hell out of here. Before its too late."

The plot comes thick and fast with Ran emerging from the house occasionally to visit the cafe in the village which Malone uses effectively as a means for Ran to learn more about his family's history from the villagers. The more he immerses himself into life in the house the more he learns about is Uncle Alexander, about his own Mother and about the tragic event that defined his Uncle's life.

So can Michael J Malone pull off a gothic horror story in contemporary Glasgow? Yes, House of Spines is a top class read that's as hard to put down as the best in the genre.

I read this novel in paperback mostly over a weekend at home in Oxfordshire.

House of Spines by Michael J Malone published by Orenda Books, 276 pages.     

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