HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone
Orenda Books; 9/15/17 (UK) & 4/1/18 (US)
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: spine-tingling, gothic-inspired suspense
When was the last time you read a book that you genuinely could not put down? Michael J. Malone's forthcoming HOUSE OF SPINES was exactly that kind of read for me. From the first page to the last, this bone-chilling blend of psychological suspense and gothic ghost story seemed to possess me; I read it in less than 24 hours, unable to leave Malone's world of love, lust, and betrayal for too long. HOUSE OF SPINES is a genre all its own—it's a seamless blend of psychological suspense, ghost story, ode to the power of the written word, and immersion in the mind of a man who's losing himself to his family history. In short, it's a must-read.
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.
There is so much to love about HOUSE OF SPINES, but first and foremost is its rich and haunting atmosphere. Alongside main character Ranald, readers are drawn into a world that seems - and might just be - too good to be true. Ranald is a down-on-his-luck writer who suddenly finds himself in possession of a beautiful old mansion in rural Scotland—a property which belongs to relatives he never knew he had. We walk alongside Ranald as he explores the mansion he has inherited; we experience its beauty, and we also experience the unsettling and inexplicable occurrences that seem to plague it. It’s almost impossible to describe this story’s plot in detail without spoiling its many bone-chilling reveals, but it quickly becomes clear to the reader that the mansion central to this story is home to more than just its human inhabitants. There is a dark history surrounding this building - a history that is tied inextricably to the extended family Ranald never knew he had. Malone has done a fantastic job bringing this building to life. The mansion feels like a character unto itself, and readers experience its changeable moods alongside Ranald.
But the atmosphere of this book isn't confined to the story's central location. As Ranald becomes affected by the house's energy, this atmosphere seems to follow him wherever he goes. Malone imbues this story with a dark soul, a shadow that seems to lurk on the edge of each page. I didn't go into this read expecting a ghost story - in fact, I might have been skeptical had I known there would be otherworldly elements to this psychological thriller - but Malone drew me into this world so convincingly that I bought every single suggestion of haunting that he wove into it.
Keep in mind, this book still falls squarely within the crime fiction genre; it is not a ghost story, but rather a story of human fallibility laced with a touch of otherworldly suspense—a blend that was, for me, even more chilling than a pure ghost story might have been. What makes HOUSE OF SPINES such an unsettling read is the hazy, blurry line Malone draws between what is real and what isn't. Main character Ranald is a bit of an unreliable narrator, but not in the sense that readers have come to expect. He's not witness to a crime or perpetrator of a crime; rather, he is witness to a series of inexplicable events in his new home, events which seem to coincide with his worsening mental state. The further into Ranald’s personal history the reader delves, the more it becomes clear that his mental state might be compromised—and not only that, but that he might be following in the footsteps of many of his relatives before him whose lives have unraveled in this beautiful home. I was completely absorbed in Ranald's struggle for sanity, and I found myself hypnotized by the way Malone draws the reader into Ranald's increasingly unmoored perspective. By halfway through HOUSE OF SPINES, I was questioning everything, and loving every single minute of it.
Malone has crafted a rich and vivid world in HOUSE OF SPINES. Every element of this story, from Ranald's family history to the mansion he inherits to the cast of characters he interacts with, is well-developed and intentionally plotted - resulting in genuinely shocking and satisfying plot twists and sustained suspense from the book's first page to its last. HOUSE OF SPINES has layers upon layers of intrigue, and I loved my time spent peeling back each and every one. Publisher Orenda Books has a knack for finding unique and unusual crime fiction, and they have found an absolutely superb addition to any crime reader's library in Michael J. Malone's HOUSE OF SPINES.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Orenda (15 Sept. 2017)
Find it on Amazon UK Here
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Orenda Books (April 1, 2018)
Find it on Book Depository Here