The haunted house story is tried and tested, and it’s very hard for authors to bring anything new to the table as far as the genre is concerned. Has Peter James done it with The House on Cold Hill? No, not really. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he watched a little too much of the first season of American Horror Story. But still, there was something about the story that kept me reading, and made me excited to find a resolution. It is my first Peter James novel, so not quite what I was expecting, and I must admit I was impressed with the suspenseful prose employed in this wholly engrossing horror story.
In the way that so many of these stories begin, the Harcourt family pack up their inner city lifestyle to try and make a go of it in a large country mansion. They have high hopes for their future, and while the property needs a bit of work, they feel confident for their future stability in a home in which their family will be happy. Naturally, things in the house are not as they seem, and supernatural occurrences which at first could be ascribed to the failings of an old house instead turn sinister. The Harcourt family are likeable, their lives relatively normal. They have normal jobs, go to normal schools, have normal friends and were very relatable. There were no skeletons in their closets, they are averagely aspirational. Because of this, the story was carried by its supernatural elements rather than being character driven, which for a story like this worked perfectly.
The one place I would have liked a bit more development was in the character of the house and its ghosts. The hauntings were a series of events and didn’t really have a true presence. There was a sense of malevolence, but I would have liked to have found out more about the house’s history, and learned more of the character of those who were haunting it. In the last moments of the story Ollie Harcourt makes a grizzly discovery in the house, and yet this discovery doesn’t go anywhere or mean anything. In fact, he never even mentions it to any of the other characters. There were quite a few elements like this, which would pique my curiosity and ultimately not go anywhere.
There were some really promising elements to the plot which I feel Peter James should have spent more time exploring. He explores where ghosts come from, and discusses the idea of time pockets and ley lines where the past and present can converge. With these elements expanded this book would really have brought something new to the genre, and I’m sad that there wasn’t more development in this area.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading The House on Cold Hill. It was fast-paced and energetic, and because I’m already a fan of the genre it didn’t take a lot to keep me entertained. If you like haunted house stories it’s a fun one to read, but if you want something different, or an introduction to the genre I can think of a number of better offerings off the top of my head.