I’m a massive fan of Halloween, so was very excited to be invited to review The House on Cold Hill by Peter James, even though I wouldn’t normally select a “haunted house” narrative myself. After all, once you’ve read one you’ve read them all, right? Haunted house clichés in books and films are so common that you don’t need me to compile a list of them for you… the challenge is for an author to either completely break the mould, or to work within the tropes that a reader will expect while still offering enough unpredictability to creep them out. Not easy.
The House on Cold Hill is definitely in the latter camp and though James brings out many haunted house classics (cold rooms, frightened animals, glimpses of shadows), these are cleverly used. Having stunned the reader with an unexpected plot twist in the first chapter, the opening of the novel then focuses on the cataclysmic restoration of Cold Hill House. Initially I felt as if I was watching a channel four mash-up of Phil Spencer Secret Agent and Most Haunted, a cautionary tale of dabbling in property with horror tropes drip fed slowly into the narrative. But all the while the subtle cues of a haunted house story gradually built tension while I was looking the other way. By the time the novel is reaching its climax, I found myself hooked on the story. Although there are a few elements that are a little predictable (an aspect of the genre, rather than the author’s imagination) there are enough false leads and red herrings to keep you wrong footed and guessing at the ending until the penultimate chapter.
If you’re looking for a ghost story for 2015, then The House on Cold Hill is definitely worth a read. And who doesn’t like curling up with a spooky tale on a cold winter’s evening?