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.

No One’s Home – D M Pulley (2019) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Every month Amazon Prime subscribers are offered a free “First Read” of an e-publication. I generally take them up on the offer but until now haven’t actually read any of them. I chose this from the August selection.

It’s American author D M Pulley’s 4th novel. Her debut “The Dead Key” won an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2014.  Her latest is a creepy house novel with an acknowledged nod towards Shirley Jackson’s horror classic “The Haunting Of Hill House” and there’s references also to the movie “Poltergeist” within the text. It also brought to mind the first season of “American Horror Story” known as “Murder House”, the residence within Pulley’s novel also very much fits this description.

Everything we would expect from a haunted house tale is here, beginning with the house being for sale and being purchased by a not particularly likeable family before the odd things start to happen. In this case there’s a lot of individual members of the Spielman family spooking themselves by wandering around the house when alone. Obviously, to begin with this new family to the house, Myron, Margot and awkward teenager Hunter know little about the history of the place other than it was a bargain buy. We get to know about previous owners through parallel narratives and for most, things do not end up well. The house has been built on the remains of a Shaker community and from the Rawlings family who lived there in the late 1920’s lives have been steeped in tragedy. In many cases the presence of ghosts are fuelled by characters’ inability to communicate with one another, making it a tale of outsiders haunted by their pasts which influences how they deal with the present.

These parallel narratives make this novel seem less formulaic with echoes of one generation touching others. I can’t say I was particularly chilled at any point but I was intrigued by the interweaving of the past with the present. At times plausibility is strained which is not uncommon with tales dealing with the supernatural. Anyone looking for a creepy (ish) read in the run up to Halloween might wish to consider this.

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I read a Kindle edition of No One’s Home which was published in 2019 by Thomas and Mercer.