The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan
Michael Simmons is a reasonably successful London art dealer. When one of his premier artists, Maggie Turner, gets involved with a violent, abusive man, Michael shows himself as a true friend, helping her get back on her feet and settled into her dream house, a remote, ancient stone cottage on the Irish coast, where she can rediscover her art again. At Maggie’s housewarming party, one of her friends decides to take advantage of the age of the house and breaks out a Ouija board. The party-goers unwittingly unleash something with their meddling, a being who calls himself The Master, and who slowly begins to take over Maggie’s mind and body.
This is a fantastic premise for a story. We have the broken, struggling to recover Maggie, and faithful friend and mentor Michael. We have the rugged and isolated Irish coast. We have a malevolent force, focused on the ragged psyche of Maggie, and the slow descent of a passionate woman into madness. The concept of the story is interesting on the face of it, add in the supernatural elements and this is a story with true haunting potential (see what I did there?).
Unfortunately, the story is told entirely from Michael Simmons’ point of view, and we see very little of Maggie’s struggles. In fact, we really only get to see Maggie in bits and pieces after her abusive relationship culminates in a hospital stay, at her housewarming party, and a few months later, when she has gone mad. All the horror and suspense of what must have occurred is pretty much nullified by the distance afforded by the narrator. As such, it is very hard to get into this book or to invest in Maggie or in Michael as characters.
In sum, there is the kernel of a truly terrifying book in here, but the author would have to let the reader into Maggie’s home and her headspace before it would be effective. Horror requires a narrator who cannot get away, who has no escape. Michael’s distance from the heart of the story gives us room to sidestep the horror.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.