The Toll House – Carly Reagon (Sphere 2022)

As the nights draw in something creepy becomes an increasingly appealing reading choice and this debut novel might very well fit the bill.

In 1863 the cottage on the Old Turnpike Road, Stonebridge, was a working Toll House lived in by the keeper Joseph Walton and his pregnant wife Bella.  In the present day it becomes a new home for Kelda and her six-year-old son Dylan.  They chose the house out of financial necessity but from their initial viewing Kelda senses it needing her and confuses this with homeliness.  The house is, in fact, haunted and the past and present clash.  The nineteenth century is covered largely by a first-person present tense narrative by Walton with a third person narration for the present day.

It takes a while to move from gently unnerving to anything more chilling, and as in many ghost stories, it is the child, Dylan, who bears the brunt whilst Kelda cannot believe anything is seriously amiss despite increasing evidence to the contrary.  It does build nicely as both Kelda’s own past and the distant past of the Toll House come back to haunt her.  Her desire to live a life no more demanding than work, childcare and maybe meeting the perfect man on a dating app is certainly thwarted by the history of her house. 

The novel doesn’t add anything new to the haunted house genre and it was more subtly creepy than out and out chilling as far as I was concerned but plot and characterisation are handled well and there’s a solid sense of history throughout.  There are some good twists, especially towards the end.  This could very well be a popular choice for bookshop browsers in the month leading up to Halloween.

The Toll House is published by Sphere as a hardback and e-book on 6th October 2022.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.