This is the first novel by Michael Malone that I’ve read, an author who from what I gather used to write gritty noir and has now moved into psychological suspense. House of Spines is more than psychological suspense however, the author blending the genre with the gothic supernatural. Ran McGhie is a young man with mental health issues, suffering from bipolar depression. The nature of his illness is such that his moods swing from the deepest, darkest despair to manic elation. Sometimes he becomes delusional, even hallucinates. He’s also a man who has suffered devastating family trauma. At the start of the novel he has just learnt that he has inherited Newton Hall, a huge house, from his mother’s side of the family. A relative Ran had never met has left him the property complete with extensive library. As a struggling writer, this is a dream come true. He moves in but almost immediately feels that there is something wrong, the house having a disquieting atmosphere. Coupled with meeting unpleasant relatives for the first time – Ran’s been told that they’ve been generously compensated in the will and have no designs on the house, but can he be sure that this is indeed the case? - and already struggling with burgeoning loneliness having separated from his wife, it isn’t long before his precarious grip on sanity is feeling the strain.
As mentioned this is a bit of a mash up of genres. We have psychological suspense complete with unreliable narrator and we have gothic horror complete with a haunted house, a woman’s spirit stuck in a mirror trying to claim Ran’s soul for her own, or is she? The two elements complement each other well and the author does a good job of building the tension as the story unfolds. The characterisation is spot on too, I certainly warmed to Ran who cuts a fragile and tragic figure, while some of the antagonists – two in particular - are shocking in the lengths they’ll go to get what they want. But really, it’s Newton Hall itself which steals the show, the property itself taking on a life of its own and making its presence felt on every page. This result is a creepy and atmospheric tale.
Psychological thrillers are currently all the rage but as with any new trend in the literary world, the danger is the marketplace gets saturated. I would recommend House of Spines to fans of the genre as something that dares to push the boundaries and be a little different from the competition.
3 out of 5 stars