Published by Orenda Books
Ebook: 16 May 2017 | Paperback : 15 September 2017
About the Book:
A terrifying psychological thriller cum Gothic mystery, as a young man with mental health issues inherits an isolate mansion, where all is not as it seems…
Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror… the reflection of a woman… A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…
Michael J Malone’s previous standalone novel, A Suitable Lie, made to my Top Reads of last year and having enjoyed that one so much, I couldn’t wait to get into House of Spines and oh my what a addictive read it is.
For anyone expecting a story similar to A Suitable Life, be aware that House of Spines is VERY different. It has a supernatural element which, combined with the gothic atmospheric description of old Newton Hall works perfectly. I’m not generally a fan of the supernatural but this is so well done, I was never quite sure if the Hall is home to a ghostly apparition or whether it is just a figment of Ranald’s overwrought imagination.
Ranald McGhie is a troubled but nevertheless engaging character. His parents died when he was 18 and the manner of their deaths has had a devastating influence on his life ever since; he worries that he has inherited his mother’s mental problems and it is this aspect of his personality that makes him seem an unreliable narrator. His social awkwardness when trying to interact with people, especially women, just endeared him to me even more and despite his stubbornness at times, I was rooting for him all the way. His ex-wife Martie and old neighbour Donna were the two most stabilising influences in his life but even they couldn’t always get through to him.
When he discovers that he has inherited Newton Hall, from a wealthy family connection he knew nothing about, you would think that he would be overjoyed. Leaving his cramped rented flat, he could now live in a huge mansion, in a far more salubrious part of town, with more rooms that he knew what to do with, including an indoor pool and, a writer’s dream – a fantastic library. However it’s not long before Ran begins to have disturbing dreams and visions – is there really a seductive restless spirit lurking in the house or is it just his mind playing tricks. Newton Hall itself was a character in its own right; so well described with its dark corridors and winding stairs, the locked rooms – some of which appeared to have been preserved for decades – as fabulous as the Hall first seems, I’m not actually sure that I would want to live there. Then of course there are cryptic comments from the locals about ‘THAT house and that Fitzpatrick family”.
House of Spines was an engrossing and unsettling read from start to finish. It has the slower pace of a character driven story but that just enables the reader to get to know Ran and to try to work out in their own mind what actually is happening – and this is where the difficulty lies as Ranald’s version may or, may not, be the real one. There were times when I was silently screaming at Ran to get a grip and to take his medication whilst at others I was cowering behind my hands, afraid for him of what was to come.
Michael Malone writes a captivating story. His writing is just so engaging that I didn’t want to put the book down, I was desperate to find out what was really happening. Little surprises here and there kept me on my toes and made me re-evaluate what I thought I knew; even when I got to the end, I still wasn’t sure of what I had actually read. This is one of the very few books that I would re-read as I am sure that second time around, there may be subtle clues that I missed.
I thought House of Spines was a fabulous read and Michael Malone could well end up being mentioned in my Top Books of the year list again.
My thanks to Orenda Books for the paperback copy to review and to Anne Cater for my inclusion on the blog tour.
About the author:
Michael Malone was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult, maybe.
He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Don’t ask.
BLOOD TEARS, his debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge:Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers and when it was published he added a “J” to his name to differentiate it from the work of his talented U.S. namesake.