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Review: ‘The Haunting of Jessop Rise’ by Danny Weston

The Haunting of Jessop Rise Book CoverThe Haunting of Jessop Rise was an entertaining read.  It was an unassuming, simple haunted house story with elements of gothic horror that neither excited nor bored.  It simply waswhich in some cases is exactly what you want as a reader.  I read the whole book in a few hours so it never overstayed its welcome, and for a middle grade novel it did have some pretty effective moments of fear.

William, the protagonist is a surprisingly deep character.  Weston actually does a great job of building a pretty decent character profile in a very short amount of time.  The main characters felt read and the satellite characters didn’t have too much fleshing them out that the novel felt bloated.  My only issue with the characters though was that they felt too much like characters from other novels.  There was nothing particularly unique about them to set them apart from better works of the 19th century, or more involved haunted house stories.  There were elements of Jane Eyre, The Woman in Black and even Great Expectations.

Using North Wales as a setting for was originally what drew me to The Haunting of Jessop Rise.  Wales is a country rife with folklore and mystery.  It is a place where tales of witches and fairies become almost believable and the countryside almost seems to sing with the voices of ancient civilisations.  There was potential here, but a potential that was completely unrealised.  The one element of the particularly Welsh supernatural was actually pretty unnecessary to the plot, and most of the action took place in the confines of the titular Jessop Rise meaning that the setting of Wales was largely unnecessary.  The local Welsh were represented as menial and superstitious, whereas the English characters somehow seemed superior, going so far as to scoff at the Welsh language.  This bothered me.  I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of the author, and indeed was probably pretty historically accurate in the way perceptions lay at the time, however that’s the benifit of writing fiction.  Weston simply could have done more.

All in all, The Haunting of Jessop Rise was a short read and one that I must admit I enjoyed despite its shortcomings.  It’s an entertaining middle grade horror if nothing else.

 

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Review: ‘The House on Cold Hill’ by Peter James

Peter James - House on Cold HillThe 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 my 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.

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