By Michael J Malone
Published by Orenda Books (e-book: 16 August 2017; paperback: 15 September 2017)
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...
House of Spines is a gothic tale of love, lust, loneliness and lies.
When struggling writer Ran McGhie learns he has inherited Newton Hall, he jumps at the opportunity to move in straight away. The vast mansion belonged to Ran's great uncle, someone he not only never met but never even knew existed. Ran knows very little about his parents, who died when he was 18.
With its huge library, Newton Hall is an ideal place for a poet. His great uncle's will stipulates that if Ran chooses to live in the house, the books there must never be moved. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But Ran, who suffers from bipolar disorder, seems overwhelmed by his new living arrangements, with its endless array of rooms and corridors, gardens and swimming pool and an ancient lift. He has strange visions, feels a woman's touch, hears her voice - but is everything all it seems or is his grasp on reality swinging out of control?
Michael J Malone is a very vivid writer, putting the reader right into the head, and heart, of his protagonist. In House of Spines, I felt like I was living the story with Ran - seeing what he saw, feeling what he felt. The pictures the author paints within his prose, of the smells, sounds and sights of old Newton Hall, are as chilling and disturbing as the story itself.
The plot builds up gradually, immersing the reader in Ran's daily life as he explores his surroundings and meets some of the locals. It's creepy and unsettling, with a unreliable protagonist - in fact a whole host of unreliable characters. I worked out some things, but not everything, and there were plenty of surprises to come.
For me, this was less of a 'psychological thriller' than a great gothic mystery of a man's descent into mania and a family steeped in secrets and lies.
Highly recommended if you like creepy spine-tingling twisty tales.
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.