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The House on Cold Hill: Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink

By MG Mason

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seem to be attracting requests for review for commercial work these days; that’s why I am reviewing this book several days before its official release. An interview with the author will follow so please check back.

Peter James is a well-known writer of crime and science thrillers, and though having looked up his bio it seems he has dabbled in the supernatural before, but nothing quite like this.There is something quintessentially British about the haunted house story. James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall, Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black are just two of the most famous titles in this genre. Now, this latest offering from crime writer Peter James has already attracted rave reviews ahead of its launch this week.

The story is familiar – young family (check) buys old house (check) in sleepy rural village (check). Slowly, weird things start to happen (check). Someone spots something out of the corner of the eye, strange noises at night and taps that turn themselves on – that sort of thing (check, check and check). Looking into the history of the house it seems tragedy has struck more than once (another check) and the story slowly unravels thriller-like and I guess this is where James most effectively adapts his own style to the new territory.

There is something very familiar about the first half but the great thing about the haunted house story is that no matter how familiar it is, no matter how often you can predict what is going to happen next, it always feels so fresh – mostly because it remains creepy throughout that you don’t care. The other major success of this book is that most chapters finish on a cliffhanger. It’s no wonder then that I started this book on a Saturday and finished it on a Monday evening. The second half sees a surprising and interesting change of pace. It freaks you out but in a different way and for different reasons. I don’t want to say any more.

James uses the ghost story tropes with delightful and spooky effect. Once you feel very comfortable and in very familiar territory, that is when the story changes. James does something a little bit different, blending several unexpected elements into a well-written narrative style that leaves the reader uttering those immortal and fatal words of the book addict “ok, maybe just one more chapter and then I’ll put it down.”

This is a great book – it has everything you want. The only down side is that we don’t really get a feel for the village or the local community and it’s attitudes towards the house and its history. The few locals we do meet are simply indifferent to it. A couple of characters are introduced and then forgotten about, which is a shame because I feel they could have added real depth here. Nevertheless, this is a great book and perfect to be read at this time of year.

This is my first experience with Peter James and I am certain it will not be the last.