Steve and Melody are looking for somewhere to make a fresh start away from the hustle and noise of the big city. When they find Hope House, a 200-year-old cottage set deep within Oakwell Forest, it’s love at first sight as far as Melody is concerned, Steve’s not so sure, but goes along for the easy ride. Everything seems idyllic until they go exploring in the woods and Melody discovers a wooden crucifix in a hollow tree. Does she leave it where it was? No of course she doesn’t. After all, where would we be, my Hothouse Flowers, if folks in books and films left stones unturned and never split up to explore dark places?
Turns out that Hope House has been built on land belonging to the mysterious Goguko tribe who self-destructed in a riot of murder and suicide in the 16th Century. Yes, there’s certainly something evil lurking in them there woods. To make matters worse, Hope House was built by slaves driven by cruel overseers. Then there is Donovan, the estate agent who sells the house to Steve and Melody, he’s definitely not normal. It isn’t long before the creepy stuff starts.
Whisper is, on the whole, a pretty competent haunting and possession story with a bit of extra serial killing psycho thrown in for good measure. The atmospheric use of the North American woodland setting reminded me very much of Stephen King, an author who I know Bray admires, and considering he’s an Englishman writing from Leeds, his command of US small town imagery is quite remarkably realistic.
This is Bray’s first full length novel (see our review of his really rather good interconnected short story collection Dark Corners) and while he has managed the transition to a longer format well, I do think Whisper could have been improved by a further edit to firm up the prose. That being said, Whisper is on balance a good spooky read with some neat ideas concerning those electronic devices that keep us all connected today. I give it a 555.
So what would be my haunted house recommendations?
The Legend of Hell House (1973): Richard (I am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) Matheson scripted this shocker from his own novel about a physicist (Clive Revill) who leads a team of investigators searching for the truth behind the haunting of the Belasco House. Also stars Pamela Franklin, Gayle Hunnicutt and Roddy McDowell
The Univited (1944): Brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) buy a lonely cliff-top house in Cornwall, only to discover it’s still occupied. Beautifully scored by Victor Young this bit of Hollywood Gothic still manages to chill.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.