Book Review: House of Spines

House of Spines, by Michael J Malone, is a ghost story. Set in present day Glasgow its protagonist is Ranald McGhie, a bipolar writer whose parents died when he was eighteen and whose marriage fell apart after his wife had him sectioned. Now living alone in a small rented flat he is surprised to be summoned to a lawyers office for the reading of a will. Here he discovers that his mother’s estranged family were wealthy and that he has inherited a large house, Newton Hall, on condition he retain it and the many books therein.

The house comes with a housekeeper and gardener along with funds left in trust for its upkeep. Ran’s Great-Uncle Alexander had been preparing this bequest for some time. Ran finds quality clothes in his size along with new bedding and other essentials. What he also discovers is that the old property has a resident ghost, but is it real or a construct of his long disturbed mind?

Ran is not the only relative still alive and two cousins, Marcus and Rebecca, soon put in an appearance. The lawyer had assured Ran that Newton Hall was not wanted by anyone else, that his cousins were well provided for in the will. This turns out not to have been enough for the unpleasant siblings who have lucrative plans for the hall’s sale and redevelopment. Marcus tries to persuade Ran that it would be in his best interests to move away, sharing the proceeds, but Ran has developed an affinity for his great-uncle and is reluctant to agree.

The shock of his changed circumstances and the loneliness of this vast new home affect Ran’s mental wellbeing. He hears noises, sees shadows, discovers notebooks and letters in desks that affect his subconscious. The only places he feels truly comfortable are in the library or newly installed fitness suite. His uneasiness manifests in vivid dreams, activities he does not remember, and episodes of sleepwalking. He is continually drawn to a broken lift that his housekeeper had kept locked, advising him to stay away.

The writing is sharp, intense, and deliciously chilling until the last hundred or so pages. By this stage Marcus has become immured by the evolving situation, understandable given his illness and stuttered medication but a tad irritating to read. I guessed where the plot was going and wondered why his concerned friends had not checked in on him. Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations of those he pushed away, and the impact of his trust issues.

The gothic elements of the tale are masterfully written; Newton Hall a fabulous creation. Ran’s reluctance to face up to his illness, his disavowal of the management strategies prescribed by professionals, added an interesting layer to the more usual fear of the dark, shadows behind curtains and monsters under the bed tropes of haunted houses.

This is an enjoyable read even if I did find the structuring of the conclusion weaker than the beginning and middle sections. I am, however, left pondering what will happen to Ran next, if perhaps this is a circular tale.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This post is a stop on the House of Spines Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

House of Spines is published by Orenda Books.

Book Review: A Suitable Lie

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A Suitable Lie, by Michael J. Malone, is a psychological thriller exploring the complex issue of domestic abuse. In this tale it is the husband who is being abused. His reasons for staying within the marriage are compellingly presented.

The protagonist is Andy Boyd, a widowed father who enjoys a close and friendly relationship with his mother and brother. His father died when he was young. His first wife died giving birth to their son, Pat, who is now four years old. Andy is content with the quiet life the two of them lead. He has just benefited from a promotion at work where he manages a branch of a local bank. His mother considers him too young to settle for nothing more than work and parenting.

Andy’s brother, Jim, insists that they go to their rugby club for a night out. There Andy meets Anna, a beautiful and petite young woman who is new to the area. Andy and Jim are tall and well built rugby players. The contrast in stature is significant in their subsequent behaviour.

A whirlwind romance ensues. Despite his mother’s reservations, Andy and Anna marry. The bride-to-be had not been pleased when her future husband went away on a drunken stag weekend, but her paranoia fully manifests itself on their wedding night. Although shocked at his new young wife’s behaviour, Andy accepts her explanation and they settle into married life.

Anna’s volatile behaviour is described in detail, as is their early sexual activity. She is, at times, demanding, vicious and manipulative, playing to each of Andy’s weaknesses. His pride forbids him from letting anyone know what is going on.

In an attempt to mollify Anna, Andy distances himself from his mother and brother. His work begins to suffer, not helped by a series of irregularities in the bank’s accounts.

The short chapters help to maintain the tension. The reasons Andy puts up with so much are well explained. What was less clear is why he did not confide in his family, to whom he had been close, when the situation became so obviously dire. Perhaps my lack of empathy in this respect is because I am not a macho, Scottish male.

The story builds to a crisis point and the tension is then ratcheted up even more. The denouement is loaded with foreboding.

The author does a fine job of taking the reader inside Andy’s predicament. The twists at the end are skillfully presented.

I do have these few reservations around the plot. I do not enjoy reading details of sex and have little patience with machismo. I did not understand why Andy did not at least visit a doctor to have each set of injuries recorded. I cannot fault the writing style which was taut and potent throughout.

Abuse of either partner in a supposedly loving relationship is unacceptable yet is too often ignored. It can be tricky to prove exactly what goes on in the privacy of a home. Fiction is an effective way to get people empathising with such complexities. This book is also a gripping read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Suitable Lie Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

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A Suitable Lie is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now. 

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