The House of Small Shadows
St. Martin’s Press
Reviewed by David T. Wilbanks
I’d be shocked to discover a horror fiction fan who had not heard the name “Adam Nevill” by now; with the Guardian dubbing him “Britain’s answer to Stephen King” you can assume he’s something special. I’m not so sure the comparison to King is completely accurate; to me Nevill is a bit closer to Clive Barker, and as far as I’m concerned that’s just as great a compliment. On the other hand, Nevill’s like neither one; he has his own thing going.
The author has a new novel out in the UK as I write this (October 2014) but the focus here is on the previous one and if you have not yet read The House of Small Shadows you are in for a harrowing time. When it comes to blood-chilling, claustrophobic terror, this book has few rivals. The lead character Catherine is sent to an eccentric old woman’s home, called Red House, to evaluate the treasure trove contained therein. But she finds more than she expects in the way of antiques and in the way of the old woman’s eccentricities. The longer she stays at the Red House, the more unsettling things become as she uncovers its dark history. At times she would like nothing better than to drop the whole affair and leave the place, but Catherine has much to prove to herself and to the world, and it is this battle between self-preservation and self-worth that builds tension throughout the novel.
To reveal more would spoil the fun, perhaps. Let’s just say fans of the weird will find plenty of old dolls, grotesque puppets, twisted taxidermy and even worse things. Yet it is the expanding cloak of inescapable dread that Nevill conjures, like a coffin lid slowly closing over the reader, that is most impressive, leaving one breathless and more than a little disturbed.
Horror novels don’t get much better than this.