British author Nevill (House of Small Shadows, 2014, etc.) out-Kings Stephen in this intense tale of séances, houses of ill repute and pervert convicts captured by The Other.
Stephanie Booth is "a minimum wage temp, who couldn’t afford to go to university." She rents a room at 82 Edgehill Rd. in Birmingham—a dwelling once occupied by The Friends of Light spiritualist group and then by the Bennets, a midcentury father/son pair of pimps and murderers. The current landlord, Knacker McGuire, "bloodless face…slit-eyed sneer," gives Stephanie a room which "looked like the scene of a potential suicide following an occupant’s long period of depression, isolation and poverty." But it's Knacker’s cousin, Fergal, "haggard and feral," whose perversions reveal to Stephanie that she resides in a house of horrors, one inhabited by the spirit of Black Maggie, a creature rooted in ancient fertility rites. Stephanie’s an empathetic protagonist, killing her way out of peril, but Nevill’s most vivid character is Knacker, right down to his Brummie ("bovver wiv all vat") accent. Stephanie, free of the Edgehill horror, grows rich on book and film rights, reinventing herself as Amber Hare. However, even after settling in southern England, Stephanie’s nightmarish apparitions convince her that "the poor souls...had followed her from their wretched graves in Edgehill Road." Overwhelmed by "fear, regret, anxiety, hope and despair," Stephanie/Amber learns "the Bennets and Fergal [were] mere tools, homicidal tools…for something that found them useful." Tensions are high, the settings are ominous, and Nevill even offers cogent social observations, such as Stephanie learning that "everything she took for granted…like cooperation and manners and civility and privacy and laws," is lost when notoriety arrives.
A macabre, otherworldly tale of a young woman "swallowed whole and alive by the horror that refused to be sated."