Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Horror fiction often provides shivers of ghoulish appreciation this shock was effectively staged, that death was impressively perverse but fans of the genre know how rare it is to find a book upsetting enough to want to take the damn thing out back and bury it. Nevill, in his fifth novel, throws down just such a gauntlet. From the opening line's echo of Manderley (As if by a dream Catherine came to the Red House), readers will find themselves in the sickly-sweet rotted-silk grip of a decaying gothic nightmare, in which a psychologically damaged antiques appraiser, Catherine, is summoned to the crumbling Victorian home of 93-year-old Edith, the surviving niece of an apparently gifted, though hermetic, puppeteer named M. H. Mason. What Catherine expects to find are dolls sellable at auction; what she discovers instead are thousands of rats, painstakingly taxidermied into WWI tableaux of painstaking realism: So lifelike were their expressions of terror and pain and despair and shock, and so convincing were their little uniforms and weapons, as was their suffering in the soil, that for a few seconds she was sure she had been looking at a crowd of tiny men mired in one of hell's inner circles. Ah, but that was only Mason's early work! The cackling Edith, wheeled about by her silent servant, then introduces Catherine to the 10 marionettes (articulated, of course, from animal carcasses) tucked into 10 little beds. Until night, that is, when time comes to rehearse for the latest cruelty play, in which a plum role has been reserved for Catherine. At the end of Catherine's first day, Edith's servant slips into her hand a crumpled note: DON'T NEVER COME BACK. This serves as cue for readers to start shouting the same thing at the page (if they weren't already), but Nevill, the clever devil, has trapped Catherine before the mansion's front door even slams shut. Her teetering personal life and career so hinge upon exposing to the world Mason's twisted genius that readers, too, will find themselves gritting their teeth and submitting: Fine, one more night, but then we're out of here. By then, it's too late. This is largely a haunted-house story, though Nevill's merciless assault upon primordial fears darkness, disfigurement, and disablement does not so much recall the slow, seeping insanity of Stephen King's The Shining (1977) as it does Stanley Kubrick's treatment of the novel, single-minded in its determination to terrorize regardless of which rational concerns are dropped by the wayside. A significant side plot involves Catherine's childhood traumas at the Magnis Burrow School of Special Education, from which disabled children were regularly abducted. Some readers might consider it an overkill of unpleasantness. To the contrary, this is how Nevill shows his command. Like Kubrick, he understands that the most effective horror (as well as the hardest to execute without looking foolish) is the gibbering kind that comes lurching straight at you. Overkill? There is no such thing in fiction of the extreme. This is most evident in the book's fun-house construction, which guides readers, quite literally, from one grisly chamber to the next. The tour concludes, as fun houses often do, in the frenzied disorientation of a maze: you slap at the walls, blind and overwhelmed by panic and noise, your giddiness only heightened by the hunch that you and the darkness are becoming one. Haunted-house maestros Shirley Jackson, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Peter Straub would approve this sets the bar for the best horror novel of the decade.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Unease escalates to stark terror in Nevill's intricately plotted, character-driven shadow show of numinous ritual and madness. London auction appraiser Catherine Howard is an unstable young woman with a tragic past of "imaginary" playmates and an abducted friend. She is summoned to the infamous Red House in the English countryside to appraise the exquisite taxidermy and doll collection of deceased artist M.H. Mason. Soon her sanity is further endangered by malevolent Edith, the artist's deranged and manipulative niece, as Catherine becomes fascinated with grotesque panoramas of uniformed rats reenacting wars and rooms of leering handcrafted dolls. Catherine's unstable reality is engulfed by a twisted wonderland where shadows whisper, ghostly children walk, and life feeds art. The occult is internalized in her troubled psyche, inviting a dreadful symbiosis between the paranormal and perception. Nevill (Last Days) strengthens traditional gothic atmosphere and the haunted house motif with probing literary sensibility, eschewing simplistic scares for awe and lingering ambiguity. This emotionally intense, intellectually challenging supernatural novel explores secret geographies of conscience while raising hackles, and is addictively readable. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Catherine, an antiques appraiser with a haunted past, is summoned to the crumbling Victorian home of acclaimed taxidermist and doll collector M.H. Mason. Awaiting her are the haunted relics of a twisted genius who created grisly tableaux, his malevolent ancient niece, and chilling threats to her sanity. -Verdict Creepy, chilling, and intense, this gothic fever dream and hauntedhouse story will keep you awake at night. (LJ 7/14) (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
British horror author Nevill (Last Days, 2013, etc.) goes hard-core modern gothic when he sends a fragile woman to a derelict estate filled with bizarre treasures.Catherine Howard is a "valuer," an antique dealers appraiser. Shes been dispatched to Red House, "a perfectly preserved Gothic Revival house" near the English village of Magbar Wood, which shes doomed to learn is a "mausoleum that honored loss and madness." The house is crammed with the work of M. H. Mason, a recluse who turned taxidermy into art. Mason's dioramas are "a window into hell," each displaying stuffed rats arranged as soldiers mired in the trenches of World War I. More grotesque, theres a bedroom crammed with part-human, part-animal marionettes. Edith, Masons 90-something niece and only survivor, tells Catherine that Mason returned from WWI missing part of his skull and shut himself away, believing all humanity to be "vermin." Catherines back story weaves through the tale, "her memories all waiting in Technicolor with an audio track." She was adopted and raised near an abandoned school where disabled children were deposited. Her village was plagued by kidnappings, one being that of her closest friend. That tragedy sent Catherine into an emotional spiral, and brittleness plagued her early adult life, which was troubled by bullies, deceptions and failed romances. Nevill's setting and pacing are dead-on, and minor characters, like stumpy silent Maude, Ediths housekeeper, are perfectly creepy. At first blush, Catherine believes Red Houses glories will make her professional reputation. Then come revelations of Masons wicked homages to The Martyrs of Rod and String, an ancient marionette morality play with a history that includes the public lynching of itinerant entertainers. Add Catherines desertion by her latest boyfriend and the appearance of her London nemesis, and the tale slithers toward a surreal denouement that installs new guardians at Red House.Nevill's talent for horror resonates ominously in every scene, almost as if the theme from Jaws echoes when a page is turned. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.