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Novelist Theo Kendall is a haunted man, first by memories of his cousin, Chamery Kendal who was murdered recently and now he's come to live in Fenn House, where the murder took place, he's haunted by characters that he's writing into his latest book-but he doesn't know the characters or where they came from? Fenn House is situated in a bleak area of Lincoln, with only a convent nearby for neighbors. In the four months since his beautiful cousin was forcibly drowned in the murky waters of the boathouse, the house has become a sinister and forbidding place.
However, since it was left to Theo he thinks it's an ideal place to get on with his new book, so with the book appearing to write itself and some very strange happenings in the house, it's no wonder that Theo feels spooked. The character he's writing about, Matthew, starts off as a child in a dark house living with his father and terrified by the cold-eyed men. Who are they and why do they want Matthew to spy on his father? In a world where people vanish and die in macabre circumstance, the house where Matthew lives is an echo of Fenn House.
When Theo finally realizes that the people in his book really existed in the not so distant past, things get even more bizarre until he finds that danger is hovering over him. Will the house claim another victim? Theo will have to discover the truth behind his book or maybe he will be worse than haunted.
A book within a book.
The idea of writing a haunted book is quite a different experience and surprisingly it works really well. Initially I did find it confusing, as I couldn't understand how a writer could become so immersed in his work that he doesn't know what he's writing about, but a lot of novelists say that books often take on a life of their own. I did start to put things together after a while, but each time I thought I was working something out the book and real life converged and threw me completely. This made for an interesting and compelling read and had me hooked almost from the start.
Put in some real life mysteries and the recipe for a successful book is made. I loved the chilling aspect and felt myself occasionally looking over my shoulder and shivering with anticipation, I do love a spooky story and this has loads. Not knowing if this was a ghost or suspense story also added to the book and kept me guessing, some things just wouldn't add up and the end came as a big surprise. Unfortunately the surprise means I can't write much about the characters, as you will discover for yourself if you decide to try this book.
I was intrigued with Theo from the start and wanted to know about his large and unusual family. He's around his thirties, was more than fond of his cousin, Chamery, and appears to be single by choice. A solitary child in many ways he's like the boy in his book, Matthew and at first I did think Theo was writing an allegory of his own life and family. I was soon to learn all of my guesses weren't a patch on the reality of this darkly personal and sometime deeply disturbing book.
There is a lovely brooding quality about many of the characters and even in retrospect Chamery made an appealing character, though she had plenty of guilty secrets. As Theo remembers the relationship with his cousin the reader gets to know her and there really doesn't seem any cause for her murder. The doctor who discovered the body, Michael Innes, is a character with a past that doesn't show itself until later on and then he helps Theo understand some of what is happening to him.
Apart from that there is some possible love interest as one of the nuns from the convent, Catherine, is drawn towards Theo and he to her, but can she break her vows?
Then there is Theo's mother, Petra who visited Fenn house more often than Theo remembered as a child. It seems there are secrets all around him and as his book progresses more characters come into play and reveal a story as sad as the doomed relationship between Theo and Chamery.
Sarah Rayne is well known for peopling her stories with some outstanding characters and this is no exception. The writing flows easily drawing the reader into the narrative that keeps opening up the story as Theo writes. It's not until the end that we see how the book is a living reminder of a troubled past and how clever the author has been in holding that interest throughout the book.
I was drawn to this book by the very eerie cover and then when I'd read the brief plot on the back I remembered reading a story by this author before and had enjoyed that. It was with the horror books in my local library though I'd say this is more of suspense than a true horror. It is very dark at times and there is some violent content. Overall the horror lies both in the book Theo is writing and the fact that the things he wrote about were actually real. Without adding a huge spoiler all I can say is that when past meets present the truth will surprise and shock you as it did me.
This is a really good read that will appeal to most lovers of dark stories and of either sex. There isn't any detective work but the reader can try to work out the answer and enjoy doing so. But be aware you are unlikely to do so.
This was a library book and it's a fairly recent book so an average price for this is £11.69 but cheaper used. This is in paperback and at 408 pages is a fairly lengthy read. Not for the faint-hearted.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.