Book Review: The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

Genre: Horror
Publishing Info: 2015 by Macmillan
Pages: 339

Back Cover Summary:
Moving from the heart of Brighton and Hove to the Sussex countryside is a big undertaking for Ollie and Caro Harcourt and their twelve-year-old daughter Jade. But when they view Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated Georgian mansion – Ollie is filled with excitement. Despite the financial strain of the move, he has dreamed of living in the country since he was a child, and he sees Cold Hill House as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, the perfect base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment.

Within days of moving in, it becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents of the house. A friend of Jade’s is the first to see the spectral woman, standing behind her as the girls talk on FaceTime. Then there are more sightings, and as the house seems to turn on the Harcourts, the terrified family discover its dark history, and the horrible truth of what it could mean for all of them… 

*Warning: This review contains spoilers relating to the plot. Turn back now if you still want to read this.*

Getting into the true spirit of Halloween, I decided to turn my reading eyes to a book in the horror genre. Those who know me well will know that I am a massive baby when it comes to anything that goes bump in the night, especially if it involves malevolent demonic spirits. Even with my sensitivity to this genre, I was left disappointed by this largely scare-free haunted house novel that failed to live up to a spectacular opening section.

The first chapter literally left me stunned when they introduced a family who were moving into the titular house, only to bump them all off in extremely gory fashion when falling roof tiles and masonry cut them into shreds. It was shocking, the writer not being afraid to go to extremes at the very start. It reminded me of those comically graphic deaths seen in the Final Destination franchise and it left me waiting for a full blown onslaught on the central family.

I didn’t mind the first half of the novel so much; it was a haunted house narrative by numbers with the ghost of an angry old woman roaming the corridors. It was a chilling touch to only make the woman completely visible to the daughter’s friend via the former’s webcam. Again, it had the visual potential to rifle up a few jump scares if it was translated to the small or big screen and though the writer’s flair was quite limited at this point, it pointed to a switch up in scares that I was looking forward to.

Sadly, this never materialised. Instead, readers were ‘treated’ to far too many sections involving explanations of what was structurally wrong with the house. Though the house could be on a documentary on structurally unsafe houses, the scares completely ceased. Even the attic bed rotating 180 degrees in the middle of the night didn’t have the impact that it could have done, possibly because not much is ever really seen in the moment by the protagonists.

There were far too many ideas in the second half of this book and the author could have done a better job of editing or at least making the whole thing more consistent. What was presumably the body of the old woman was discovered in a bricked up room, but seemed to be separate from the foul mouthed entity who sent threatening messages and hacked the Dad’s email to send rude emails to his clients, which also seemed separate to something causing rifts in the time continuum so that the Dad would move forward and back in time with no intention. The big issue is that none of these were attributed to a certain entity or force and despite the novel’s tagline ‘Evil isn’t born… it’s built’ seeming to hand it to the house itself, I never completely got that idea clearly enough to feel satisfied.

Remember earlier in the review when I prayed that the family would get a massive onslaught of demonic activity at the climax of the novel? Well, that didn’t happen. A couple of secondary characters died in a car accident and then water leaked from the ceiling and onto the beds… very scary. If the writer wanted to make the house seem more mysterious, as if it could just be in bad condition, then why include the demonic old woman and the imprints of previous owners? It was a big disappointment when you compare their sequence of events to the shocking deaths of the new owners in the 1960s. The ending tried to be clever but lacked originality; that kind of conclusion has been done in much more satisfying ways before.

Star Rating: 2/5

That was my first venture into the horror genre for Halloween 2018 and after a promising opening it included too many ideas that never really took off. Expect to see more reviews of the horror and chiller genres on my blog in the next few weeks. If you have any suggestions at all then please let me know in the comments section below.

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