The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville @stuartneville @ZaffreBooks

Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 February 2022 from Zaffre
PP:  464
ISBN-13: 978-1838775315

A house built on secrets

An old woman haunted by her past

A young woman fighting for her life

For Sara Keane, it was supposed to be a second chance.
A new country. A new house. A new beginning.

Then came the knock on the door.

Elderly Mary Jackson can’t understand why Sara and her husband are living in her home.

She remembers the fire. She remembers the house burning down. But she also remembers the children. The children who need her. The children she must protect.

‘The children will find you,’ she tells Sara, because Mary knows she needs help too. As Sara becomes obsessed with what happened in that house nearly sixty years ago, and the family wiped out in one bloody night, she begins to see things. Things that can’t be real.

In a story that spans six decades, the truth will not stay buried, and the ghosts of the past can never remain in the shadows . . .

Stuart Neville has written a grim, dark and compelling book in The House of Ashes. A contemporary  thriller that delves into the past to find resonance, this is a book that is both unsettling and horribly real.

It is a book in which the past comes back – not so much to haunt as to warn – and it is a warning that has to be heeded if Sarah Keane is to survive.

On the face of it, Sara Keane has everything she could possibly want. Her husband Damien dotes on her. Her father in law has recently gifted them The Ashes, a beautiful house in the Northern Irish countryside, which they have set about re-modelling. She is glad for a new start. Her life has not been happy recently and she is hoping that the countryside will bring a new start to her marriage.

Sara is enjoying bringing the old farmhouse back to life. Then one morning, an old woman, clearly troubled and confused, arrives on her doorstep claiming the house is hers.

The House of Ashes is the story of that visitor – Mary and of Sara and the house that they share in common. It is a sometimes savage read but always at its heart there is compassion and understanding.

What Stuart Neville does so well is to understand the psychology of his characters and to make the reader feel what they are going through. Hence we can feel the fear that comes from the events in this house. There are moments when the tension is just too unbearable and you feel as if you are in a car just waiting for the inevitable fatal crash to come to you.

The House of Ashes is a story that weaves together past and present to show us that it is no accident when history repeats itself.

Sara finds out about Mary and the life she led and she researches, she begins to understand what went on in the house that she has so recently begun to live in. It is testament to Stuart Neville’s finely crafted characters that you forget everything except the story of these two women and where their similarities begin and end.

There’s absolutely no reason why men should not write great female characters; just the same, Stuart Neville’s adroit touch really does bring them alive and it is easy to identify with them and to feel the pain of everything they have suffered and the hope that sometimes flutters and ultimately dies in an Ulster ditch.

I loved Mary’s voice especially; she speaks with the weight of generations, her tongue the tongue of the Ulster-Scots. Her first person narrative is one that speaks of generations of Ulster residents, writ through with words and dialect that you can still hear today in parts of that country, especially the more rural areas. Her voice is rich, authentic and matter of fact, but her story is one of cruelty, oppression and not a little madness.

Sara is on the verge of having her eyes opened. Naïve in the beginning, she is slowly realising that the sins of the past may well have a bearing on her future. I loved the way that Neville brings these two women together and how he brings the past to Sara to show her that there is a way forward, but only if she has the strength and character to seize her opportunity.

It’s to his absolute credit that Sara’s moment comes not because of another man, but because she realises who she is and what she needs.

Verdict: The House of Ashes is a fabulously written, dark and completely harrowing thriller that fills the reader with unease and foreboding. It is vividly told with a nod to the ghosts of the past but honestly, they feel so right and natural I hesitate even to mention them. This is a book that is rich and grisly; a tale of ugliness and redemption and the story of how the strength, brutality and sheer power of men never fails to rear its ugly head and display itself in man’s inhumanity to women. Read it – and weep. I did.

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Stuart Neville’s debut novel, THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (published in the UK as THE TWELVE), won the Mystery/Thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for various awards, including the MWA Edgar, CWA Dagger, Theakstons Old Peculier Novel of the Year, Barry, Macavity, Dilys awards, as well as the Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year. He has since published nine more critically acclaimed books, two of which were under the pen name Haylen Beck. In 2020, Soho Press will publish his first short story collection, THE TRAVELLER AND OTHER STORIES.Stuart’s novels have been translated into various languages, including German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Swedish, Greek and more. The French edition of The Ghosts of Belfast, Les Fantômes de Belfast, won Le Prix Mystère de la Critique du Meilleur Roman Étranger and Grand Prix du Roman Noir Étranger.

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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