'The waiting room stands on a crumbling railway platform at the edge of a retired rock stars vast estate.' What a wonderfully enticing sentence to draw a reader in to a book about ghosts? The room in question has all the hallmarks of a spooky place for haunting to take place and for retired rock star Martin Stride, it poses a real threat to his wife and children, eleven-year-old Peter and eight-year-old Millie. Stride bought the parcel of land the waiting room stands on as part of his retirement from public life. He values his privacy and his family are all to him. Recently though there has been some strange happenings that can't be reasonably explained.
Worried and concerned for his family Stride calls in Julian Creed, who, on the face of things wouldn't be a first choice for a man wanting privacy as Creed is a familiar face on TV, the best-known ghost hunter in the business with a reputation for getting things done. Only his production team and his brilliant researcher Elena know that he is a fake, a man who doesn't believe in the supernatural. As Monica, Stride's wife explains to Creed, they would rather him than a priest who would carry out an exorcism. On the surface this appears to be a simple task for Creed but he doesn't factor in his growing respect for Stride and his own misgivings after looking around the place.
It's a lovely old house set in acres of countryside in Kent and the weather coming up to autumn couldn't be better. Setting Elena the task of researching the background to the estate and the long-unused railway, Creed spends one night in the waiting room, a night that forces him to re-evaluate all his old beliefs and confront his fears head-on. The haunting is very real and the place is forbidding, can Creed put aside his tricks and do something to remove the threat to them all? This is the premise of the book, a tale of such horror it's difficult to sum it up in such a short opening. But its well worth holding back to try and convince readers its one of the most unusual books I've read in a long time.
***Setting the Scene. ***
This is the second book I've read by this author but I hadn't realized it when I first picked up the book in my local library. The book I read previously had a totally different concept and although it was about a place, the menace in the other book was more remote than this one. The jacket cover on this shows the picture of a soldier standing outside a door as if about to enter. The book starts with a poem that appears to be about the First World War by the poet Wilfred Owen. It then goes straight into the first meeting between Stride and Creed so we are involved from the outset with each discovery that's made. Personally I find this very creepy and help me to get in the correct frame of mind.
Naturally both the book cover and the poem suggest the haunting is to do with the war. So it's not a spoiler to say that there is a link with the war and the end of the railway line. But why has things started to escalate when the Creeds have lived there for some time? The author takes the reader through the possibilities as they occur and this has the effect of making you very edgy if reading at night. I don't scare easily and I read a lot of thrillers, horror and some fantasy so know the difference between reality and being spooked by night terrors. Living on my own I sometimes feel uneasy when shutting curtains, locking up for the night. There's also the fear of waking out of a dream and being unaware of actually awaking which is something common to some people. The author manages to tap into that type of unease and instead of monsters he draws out a theme of the past resonating into the present.
Cottam is excellent at portraying a family used to the limelight but now wishing for peace and quiet. I'm not sure why he decided to use a middle-aged pop star as a family man but it does work surprisingly well. I suspect the idea is to throw the character of Creed off the scent and maybe point the finger of doubt on the character with pop stars often victims of drug 'flash-backs.' If so it soon becomes clear that Martin Stride will do anything for his children and when a trip to the Isle of Wight ends in further fear for the children the pace picks up and the book turns very dark.
I liked the character of Creed, despite a slight similarity to James Herbert's unwilling ghost-hunter I felt he was very different and had few of the vices inherent in Herbert's flawed heroes. If anything it's a tribute to Herbert's characters. Creed finds himself terrified by a few nights spent in the Waiting room and soon the very thought of the evil lurking there is spreading to the other characters.
Elena comes across as a stable and reliable person, a woman whose work is exemplary but still finds time for her boss. There is a hint of romance but whether the characters are compatible remains to be seen.
These three characters have a very special purpose apart from telling the story. They are all psychic and something has brought them together at the right time though maybe the wrong place. Without introducing spoilers I cannot comment on the adversaries they face, except to say that nothing in the story is straightforward and it takes a lot of research on the part of all three to uncover a story of such magnitude it could change the very fabric of the world if not halted.
***Words and Meanings***
The use of a war poem and certain others like 'The Waiting Room' are bound to set the mind to work imagining all sorts of things. The imagery in the author's words is basic, but build up the edgy claustrophobia throughout the book. This is a very scary book with concepts that could be considered possible rather than the outright horror of blood and gore. As the story crosses time and builds up the tension, so the reader becomes immersed in the different time periods and the horrors waiting patiently behind the doors of the Waiting room.
I became completely engrossed in this book straight away and didn't find my attention wandering, so had to carry on reading to finish it in a day. As I read a lot that's high praise from me. I also find it hard to review a book I don't enjoy which makes it difficult to set a scale of points system, which works for me.
I could find a book to be the best in a certain category or a particularly good example of a genre. Then I might give it five stars followed by another review of a book that leaves me speechless because it's so good. That doesn't mean I can't rate a book as excellent if it will please a reader such as myself.
So The Waiting Room gets the full five stars because it's highly readable, has a good plot and gave me a good reason to be scared. Read it if you dare!
Thanks for reading.
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