THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL. (2015) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL BY PETER JAMES. PUBLISHED IN 2015 BY MACMILLAN.
BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

They said the dead can’t hurt you. They were wrong…

Evil isn’t born, it’s built…

This book had such an American feel to it that I was shocked to find it was written by an English author called Peter James, best known for penning crime thrillers and police procedurals featuring his well-loved fictional character, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.

THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL, a haunted house book, is one of his stand-alone books. He’s obviously a big horror fan and a fan of horror movies in particular. He kills off an entire family, BURNT OFFERINGS-style, within the first few pages of the book, and before they even get a chance to move into the titular Cold Hill House, a run-down but still impressive Georgian mansion in the Sussex countryside.

BURNT OFFERINGS, as some of you will know, is a fantastic and really scary horror film from 1975, featuring Bette Davis, Oliver Reed and horror queen Karen Black. It scared me when I first saw it in 2014, and it’s scared me all the times I’ve watched it since. It’s scaring me now, just writing about it here! If you haven’t seen it, you really should try to find it and watch it. It was on YouTube, last time I checked.

Anyway, the real beginning of the book happens when the Harcourt family move into Cold Hill House, in the modern era of mobile phones, FaceTime and laptops in every home. Ollie is the dad, a web designer who works from home, and he’s really looking forward to the challenge of living in the countryside after being stuck in the city, Brighton and Hove to be precise.

Ollie doesn’t even mind that the house is what the estate agents euphemistically call a real fixer-upper, which in this case translates to a real fally-downy, and he’ll be lucky if the place doesn’t turn into a proper cash-guzzler. The 1986 film THE MONEY PIT, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, is referenced in the book, and I’m sure Ollie can relate.

Ollie’s missus is Caro, a solicitor who’s going to commute to her office in Brighton every day now, and Jade is their teenage daughter, who cares about all the things you’d expect a teenage girl to care about: phoning her best friends from her old school whom she misses terribly, keeping in touch with a boy she likes, and pestering her father for ponies and puppies, now that they’re living in the countryside and have all the space in the world for four-legged friends.

The ghosts in the house make themselves known pretty damn quickly. I’ve read an awful lot of haunted house books over the years and, though I enjoyed this one very much, there wasn’t really a whole lot in it that was new and startling.

A ghostly old lady in an old-fashioned gown is seen gliding around the place by various members of the household, including a friend of Jade’s who sees the malevolent old woman standing behind Jade when they’re on FaceTime together.

The ghost can cause the temperatures to drop suddenly, or to make someone feel like there’s someone standing right behind them, when there’s really no-one there. Shadows abound in the house, there’s a strange man in Jade’s bedroom who looks like her father but isn’t, parts of the house are sopping wet one minute and dry the next, causing the family to have to sleep on couches in the living-room at times. Ollie feels the energy and vitality being drained out of him, something that happened in BURNT OFFERINGS as well.

There are some rather strange people floating around the village as well and there’s a distinct possibility that some of them may be late. As in, a late parrot. Deceased. Dead. Snuffed it. Clogs popped and buckets kicked good-style. You can only imagine what effect this has on an increasingly frazzled Ollie, who tries to shoulder the entire burden of the ghosts by himself in order to protect his wife and child, whom he loves dearly.

The rather grisly history of the house affords Ollie and Caro a partial explanation for the spectral goings-on, but unfortunately no comfort. When they turn to members of the clergy for this comfort and even some encouragement and help, the house reacts violently and makes its views known. And houses really shouldn’t have views on things, should they? They should mind their own business and leaves the opinions to their occupants. (I’m going to be haunted now for saying that, lol, aren’t I…?)

The ghosts have a disastrous effect on Ollie’s web design business too, for which they would have had to learn computer basics such as sending emails and rudimentary mobile phone use in order to be able to send out text messages. I found this to be funny, but also a bridge too far. When a poltergeist starts telling you its evil plans for you via computer or mobile phone, I think it’s time to throw in the towel and give up the ghost, if you’ll excuse the pun.

I think the author had also read/watched Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING (OF HILL HOUSE), the book and the film, and seen THE CHANGELING starring George C. Scott and been influenced by it, and maybe by any other films featuring little hidden or bricked-up rooms within the haunted house itself.

You know that thing where you stand outside your haunted house and you look up at the front of it and count the windows while mentally matching them up to the rooms you know they’re in? Then you discover that there’s an extra, unmatched window, or a little window up there near the top of the house that can’t be accounted for in your calculations?

Then you run upstairs with a mallet and start breaking down walls and you discover a hidden room, and it turns out that the ghosts were either trying to alert you to the presence of this room all along, because it holds the key to the entire haunting, or keep you away from it for the same reason? You do? You’re familiar with this trope? I won’t bother going into any more detail, so…!

The book is quite similar to one I read before Christmas, a haunted house book simply called HAUNTED, which was written by Bentley Little, but, as I said earlier, it’s quite hard to find new stuff to put into ghost stories or haunted house tales.

There are only so many tropes to go round, so that sooner or later you’ll almost certainly have to repeat yourself or even other writers. It’s not what you put in the book that matters, though, as much as how you handle it, and Peter James handles old material pretty serviceably in THE HOUSE ON COLD HILL.

Good luck to Ols, Caro and Jade Harcourt, the protagonists, anyway, in attempting to evade the grisly fates of their predecessors. If BURNT OFFERINGS has taught us anything, it’s that some houses really, truly don’t want to give up their occupants. Well, why would they, when living humans can give so much… energy… to a place…? Enjoy the book, but it might cost you a night or two of comfortable sleep…

   AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64

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