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, with its acres of land, as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, the perfect base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment. Caro is less certain, and Jade is grumpy about being separated from her friends.
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, as well as increasingly disturbing occurrences in the house. As the haunting becomes more malevolent and the house itself begins to turn on the Harcourts, the terrified family discover Cold Hill House’s dark history, and the horrible truth of what it could mean for them…
People always seem surprised when I tell them of my love for horror, and to be honest, I always find it surprising myself, how swiftly I can switch from swooning over a dashing hero to running my hands through my hair frantically at a pinnacle point in a gripping horror. I guess everybody has a dark side, and this is mine.
I think it pretty much started back in school when I happened to come across my school library’s collection of Point Horror stories. It’s no lie when I tell you that I ravished that particular shelf as if my life depended on it, reading book after book after book. I loved them, I loved the fact that they were strange and bizarre and completely unusual, and they’ve stayed with me ever since. It was the same with the Goosebumps series too, a collection of stories I really couldn’t get enough of. And then I found the non-fiction books, the books that hinted towards the paranormal. I think my intrigue into anything related to the paranormal stemmed from these books full of photos of apparitions and real life stores, as well as countless tales told to me over the years, from people who I’d ask, enthusiastically, if they’d ever seen a ghost. As I got older, I became more of the mind-set that if I ever saw something for myself, then I’d definitely believe it, but I’ve always been open-minded on the matter. How could you not be? I mean, how does anyone really, truly know? There’s no concrete evidence to say that ghosts don’t exist, so why are people so against believing that they do? Anyway, I’ve grown up with a fascination with anything that cannot be explained away so easily, therefore, novels of hauntings, fiction or non-fiction, have always appealed to me. So, when I came across The House on Cold Hill by Peter James on NetGalley, my interest was immediately piqued. I skimmed the blurb and knew without a doubt that it was something I was seriously interested in reading. The blurb gripped me instantly, and with those rather unsettling words printed across the cover image? Well, my mind was made up.
James begins A House on Cold Hill with a pretty horrific opening scene, with a family driving along merrily, on their way to Cold Hill House. They’re moving into what can only be described as their dream home and, despite knowing the work that needs to be done, are incredibly excited about what lies ahead for them. It’s immediately obvious, with James’s creepy, foreboding tone, that something is going to happen. It all just seems too good to be true, and in this instance, I was right. What begins as a new adventure for who appear to be a lovely, jolly family rapidly descends into a twisted nightmare and I was completely taken aback by what happens at only a few pages into the novel. In all fairness, I couldn’t fault the author for choosing to begin his novel in this way because it sets the tone for The House on Cold Hill absolutely perfectly. With James’s almost gothic imagery and dark descriptions of Cold Hill House, the atmosphere was set right from the very beginning. I must mention here that this is the very first novel that I have had the pleasure of reading by Peter James, but I’m so glad that I started with a bang. It seemed to me that this author was completely clued up on how to crawl beneath his readers’ skin and give them something to be scared of.
Now, this may not be the case for everyone. I’m completely aware there are people who can see the scariest thing ever take place and then not be fussed in the slightest. Then, there are the people like me who, after seeing or reading something particularly scary, can then not leave the bedroom without first turning the light on out on the landing because they’re terrified of something happening. To me though, nearly all of the happenings which take place in The House on Cold Hill had me glancing around myself nervously and wondering just what on earth I’d do if I’d been in the character’s terrifying situation. Some of the occurrences were so odd and downright bizarre, I really couldn’t fathom them ever taking place which in turn scared me even more. James created some of the most eeriest and strangest situations for his characters to contend with, I felt sorry for them because I, for one, would have been running away from Cold Hill House as soon as I’d noticed anything slightly peculiar.
As the novel progresses and the Harcourt family settle into their new house, renovations begin to take place. Cold Hill House is in desperate need of some TLC but Ollie and his wife Caro can’t help the flutters of excitement each time they think about their strikingly impressive new home. Joining the couple in the move is their twelve-year-old daughter Jade, but she’s not so excited. Due to leaving her friends behind in Brighton, the move is more of a strain on Jade than any of them, and there were times where I could see where Jade was coming from. It’s never nice to feel alone or separated, and once they’re aware of exactly what needs to be done to bring the house back to some sort of liveable state, I could only agree with her more. With the renovations going on, it certainly gave Cold Hill House an atmosphere, and the constant drone of work ensured there was always something going on, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking about when the next strange happening would take place. James ensures the reader is aware of a presence almost immediately, and I couldn’t wait to see what this ‘presence’ had in store for me.
As I turned the pages, things began to get more serious and quite frankly, more frightening, and the pace definitely picked up. I didn’t want to put this novel down because I was so wound up in what was happening to the Harcourt family. It was certainly a novel about a haunting, but I loved the fact that it was also so much more than that. Not only are the Harcourt family faced with a series of unexplainable happenings, but it becomes apparent to Ollie that Cold Hill House has a history, a history which gave me the chills as more of it was revealed. It became apparent that before Ollie, Caro and Jade had moved in, other families had been there too, and suffered misfortune. Tons of families for that matter. Even the locals, who Ollie befriends as the plot continues to unravel, have their own beliefs in regards to what happened all those years ago at Cold Hill House, as well as stories and myths that travelled about the place like a game of Chinese whispers. If I thought that the house seemed eerie beforehand, then once the history begins to add up, it continues to grow even more so. Knowing that something decidedly wicked could have taken place in Cold Hill House made the atmosphere in the old home even more intense and as a reader, it was fantastic.
Overall, I really enjoyed The House on Cold Hill by Peter James. It was chilling, gripping, and oh-so-creepy, with a delicious morsel of mystery running right the way through that ensured I remained hooked from beginning to end. The only negative I found with this novel that I was a tad confused about the ending. It may have just been me rushing towards the finish line, but I felt that a few issues were left untied at the end. I would have liked to have read more about what happened after the big, eerie secret was figured out in Cold Hill House, but I have to say, besides that, this really was one hell of a horror novel. I was reluctant to turn off the lights and go to sleep as the novel continued to tick over in my mind for a long time afterwards.
Becca’s Books is awarding The House on Cold Hill by Peter James with four cupcakes! This was such a thrilling novel and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for previous and/or future horror novels from this author, he is excellent at tricking you into believing the uncanny.