Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

34089088Attempting to rebuild her life after a violent relationship, Maggie Turner, a successful young artist, moves from London to Allihies and buys an ancient abandoned cottage. Keen to concentrate on her art, she is captivated by the wild beauty of her surroundings.

After renovations, she hosts a house-warming weekend for friends. A drunken game with a Ouija board briefly descends into something more sinister, as Maggie apparently channels a spirit who refers to himself simply as ‘The Master’. The others are visibly shaken, but the day after the whole thing is easily dismissed as the combination of suggestion and alcohol.

Maggie immerses herself in her painting, but the work devolves, day by day, until her style is no longer recognisable. She glimpses things, hears voices, finds herself drawn to certain areas: a stone circle in the nearby hills, the reefs at the west end of the beach behind her home … A compelling modern ghost story from a supremely talented writer.

This is the kind of horror story I love. The writing is beyond gorgeous, with descriptions that, forgive me for the cliche, take your breath away.  It is also one of the few recent scary stories I’ve read that truly scared me. And I mean seriously scared me. There’s no gore, no explicit horror, but the pervading sense of menace gets into the reader’s bones.

The novel’s pacing is a bit different than the reader expects, and the protagonist is not Maggie, as the blurb leads us to expect, but her agent, Mike. This makes for a very different, slightly removed viewpoint that is extremely effective. The ending, too, is chilling enough I recommend not reading it at night (as I did!).

If you are looking for a truly frightening read, this one is a must.

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