The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill © 2013 St. Martin’s
As an adopted child with a seizure disorder, Catherine Howard suffered bullying from her classmates along with the abduction/disappearance of her childhood best friend, Alice. Now grown up, Catherine is a mostly well-adjusted antiques assessor, working for kindly, wheelchair-bound, Leonard.
Leonard sends Catherine to perform an assessment at the Red House, a rural mansion containing the works of the late, weird, but somewhat famous, puppeteer and taxidermist, M.H. Mason. Mason’s aged niece, Edith, and dour housekeeper, Maude, serve as Catherine’s “hosts,” but are more interested in regaling Catherine about the late, M.H.’s perverse concepts of art than allowing Catherine to catalog Mason’s works. While staying at the Red House, Catherine is increasingly suspicious of other unknown persons on the property, perhaps children, and Catherine relapses into seizures, where she dreams events from her youth queerly paralleling Mason’s deranged puppetry. Soon, Catherine realizes she is prisoner in the Red House, held to serve some purpose in an upcoming pageant in the local derelict town of Magbar Wood.
House’s setup was delightfully creepy, suggesting Mason’s puppets and taxidermy pieces might be alive and that Mason might have been connected to Alice’s disappearance. Catherine eventually discovers more about the Alice connection, as well as her own connection to the Masons, and how kindly Leonard sending her to the Red House in the first place was no coincidence.
As with all horror stories, House eventually dissolved into nonsense word-imagery–no good way to explain the supernatural–but Nevill kept the creep factor high enough and Catherine sympathetically wounded enough to make me hope for her salvation and keep reading. It’s a haunted house book with an off-the-mainstream concept for the haunting entity. Well worth the read and worthy of joining my bookshelves’ perverse art collection.