A terrifying psychological thriller come 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…
Och, Michael, you’ve done it again. I loved A Suitable Lie and here you are back a year later with a completely different and even more beguiling book. Who else would think of setting a contemporary Gothic horrorpsychological /thriller/mystery in a house in the genteel suburb of Glasgow that is Bearsden?
What I loved about this book, apart from the genre bending aspect, is the many different levels it operates on and how they all combine together to tell a story that has many facets and unusually, plausibly different outcomes.
Our protagonist, Ranald McGhie had a difficult upbringing; his mother suffered from mental health problems and his own health has been conspicuously marred since finding his parents dead in their bed; victims of a suicide pact.
Ranald has always been haunted by the fact that his father chose death over being with his son and that has helped to cause in him a feeling of being unlovable. Diagnosed as bi-polar, his own mental health has not fared well, especially after the break-up of his marriage to Martie.
Alone and living in a fairly grotty bed sit, he learns that a great uncle, Alexander Fitzpatrick, whom he never knew existed, has left him his rather grand Victorian house. The lawyer Quinn, who has tracked Ranald down, tells him that the house and its contents have been wholly left to him. Those contents include a fabulous library chock full of books, and an indoor swimming pool. He has, Quinn tells him, two other cousins who have been more than adequately provided for in the will and so have no claim on the house. Although there is no actual money, his great uncle has set up a trust which both provides for the upkeep of the house and for the employment of a married couple who look after the house and the grounds, staying in a cottage in the grounds for as long as they live. The only conditions are that he does not sell the house or lend out the books in it, otherwise he is free to do as he wants.
For Ranald, whose meagre earnings come from writing, the inheritance of Newton Hall is a fantasy made real. Finally, he feels his luck is turning and he has something to look forward to.
From an early age we’re taught the saying “never look a gift horse in the mouth”, but is this lavishly furnished house just what the doctor ordered, or something altogether more creepy and sinister?
Michael Malone beautifully preserves a delicate balance between a mental health breakdown and a series of quite surreal events as he shows us a protagonist vulnerable to suggestion whose life spirals out of control as he settles in to the mansion and lets the house overwhelm him.
I don’t know a great deal about bi-polar illness, but I do have a good grounding in mental health problems. And because Ran’s mental health issues are so well drawn and feel so true to life, the results of his actions are so beautifully judged, that the reader never really knows what is real and what imagined.
The result is a living, breathing, contemporary gothic novel where the horror completely takes root in the reader’s mind and the cold shiver that runs down the reader’s spine is exactly what is driving Ranald to despair.
This is simultaneously a booklover’s dream and a book lover’s nightmare. Surrounded by all the books you could wish for in a home that offers comfortable reading spaces, warmth and nurture and yet somehow it is all fraught with disaster and danger.
As Ranald determines to find out the secrets that this house holds and to learn his family’s secret history, his first meeting with his cousins does nothing to persuade him that he belongs to the Fitzpatrick clan. As he learns more about them, his nightmares seem to be coming true. Is there more to Newton Hall than meets the eye – and can Ranald’s mental health sustain the onslaught that is about to be wreaked upon him?
This is not a book to read alone on a dark and windy night – unless, of course, you are the kind who likes nightmares – in which case, go for it. But don’t blame me – blame that Michael Malone who has a way of telling a story that just leaves you more than a little disturbed yet breathless with admiration.
House of Spines is published by Orenda Books and is available now in e-book and in paperback on 15thSeptember 2017
About Michael J. Malone
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who 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.
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.
Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.
More about Michael here.
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