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Quiet houses, screaming reader. Well, it was one of those eyes widening, silent, bite the thumbnail as the heart beats faster type of screams from me when I read this. I also mouthed a few silent obscenities as well. The author, Simon Kurt Unsworth , is currently largely unknown outside of a select few horror genre fanatics bookshelves and as yet doesn't dominate the special offer stands at service station WH Smiths. If his future books are as good as this, there's no reason why he shouldn't be a booksellers BOGOF star.
In a way, I'm glad he's not yet mainstream. In years to come, I hope to be able to say 'I was there at the start, man'. Things lose their cool when Richard and Judy put it on their book list.
For now, this book is the author's second release. He has though had work published in various horror anthologies and collections of short stories. Quiet houses' main character is a researcher called Richard Nakata and as lead characters go, I'd compare him to one of Dean Koontz's better male leads. He's deep, mysterious and with something terrible in the past having formed his outlook on life being his driving factor, like an Odd Thomas or a Christopher Snow.
Nakata is in the employ of a Mr Tidyman, a lawyer who is after proof that supernatural occurrences can influence people's behaviour in this world for a case he is working on. The book starts with a newspaper cutting that advertises for people to ring a number and leave a message if they are living in a haunted house or have had an experience they cannot explain. I rang this number out of devilish curiosity (yes, that's how the last cat died too) and was connected to Lancaster University. I thought this was a clever touch which added to the book's realism as Nakata is working on a PhD at the university in the story. It was a recorded message that greeted me on the line, so my blushes were spared.
The storyline is very deftly sliced into chapters that could be read in isolation as independent stories, but also have a common strand running through them which connects the chapters together and gives a great structure to the book. The metaphorical strand is yanked into a sharp knot as the book climaxes.
One facet of the strand mentioned above that features in the chapters are the references that Nakata has suffered a terrible loss in his life. This loss is explained towards the end in the Glasshouse chapter, and once read, will provide answers for many questions about Nakata's personality that have been raised by the reader in the preceding chapters.
The preceding chapters in question are a series of hard to explain mysterious encounters with the supernatural world, as Nakata responds to the callers from his newspaper advert. The Scale Hall chapter, the Merry House, about an empty (in the physical, tangible sense only) bungalow was for me the most chilling episode in the book. Without saying why and giving away too many spoilers, I now avoid walking my dog down ginnels that provide rear access to shabby, empty looking bungalows. After reading the Merry House chapter, I reverted to being eight years old for a few nights - dreading turning the light off before bed and having to walk a few feet in the dark to my bunk. It was terrifying to read, but very good at the same time!
The encounters that Nakata has in the course of his research all help to build the case that Tidyman is to present in court. The court day comes and is the climax of the book, and a very good climax I thought it was too. It was the sort of ending where you do an author search on Amazon immediately to see if Mr Unsworth has a sequel available to order pre-release. He does mention at the back of the book that Nakata will be returning. Good news. There is also mention of a collection of stories by Mr Unsworth being released this year, but no mention of whether Nakata features in it or not.
The author doesn't rely on violently gory descriptions of horrid acts like Shaun Hutson does, this is a far more subtle type of horror. Instead, he amplifies the everyday weirdness to be found in seemingly empty places and spaces, believably and to great effect. In this case, less is certainly more.
The book is a damn good way to have a self inflicted hear attack - terribly terrifying and cleverly pulled together at the end. A full five stars for this, more of the same please. I'm off to avoid bungalows now whilst I take the dog for a walk.
RRP: £9.99, but available cheaper as a preowned purchase from sites like Amazon's marketplace.