BOOK REVIEW: Haunted

Haunted-COVERHaunted is an odd beast. It sets a high bar with the title. The blurb on the cover states that it’s a ‘nail-biting chiller’. The press release calls William Hussey ‘the master of dark fiction’, and he is the author of the acclaimed Witchfinder trilogy. Certainly, the premise offers much. But can it deliver?

Milton Lake seems like an ordinary town, but its inhabitants are living in the shadow of a tragedy that happened long ago, and tales of hauntings and strange goings-on ripple beneath the surface.

Sixteen-year old Emma Rhodes is busy dealing with a tragedy of her own, but when a mysterious American boy moves into the derelict house across the street she senses a kindred spirit. He reveals to Emma the shocking truth that someone in the town is using the fabled Ghost Machine to call up the spirits of the dead.

Call by call the dead are unleashed, and as the town creeps ever closer to becoming a battlefield between the living and the dead, the pair join forces to find out who is conjuring the spirits and why?

Emma, or Ems as her friends call her, lives in an everytown called Milton Lake. However, she is living under a cloud of guilt following the death of her younger brother, for which she blames both herself and her parents. The story opens with a tragic funfair and a headless ghost before a mysterious American boy moves into the derelict house opposite Emma; the house belonging to the deceased owner of the funfair. Emma’s fog lifts with him now in her life, but that’s tempered by ghostly goings on. Nick, the American, explains that Edison’s fabled Ghost Machine is real and someone has stolen it, bringing it to Milton Lake. The ghosts, or unmade, as they are called in Hussey’s universe, are after the flesh of the living (but not in a zombie way). However, a mysterious circle of necromancers plan to get in Emma and Nick’s way, as they try to stop the gates of hell opening and all the undead from the town’s history flooding the streets. Meanwhile, Emma is struggling with her relationship with her Dad, and her Mum has left home and subsequently disappeared.

I’m not sure who this is aimed at. The press release calls it Teen. The story features sixteen year school children, who seem to have more personality than the adults in the novel. There is so much exposition, especially as Nick tries to explain to Emma what is going on both in her own town, the history of necromancy, and the rules of the unmade, of which there are many. It has scenes which aim to leave an unsettling taste in the mouth and Hussey attempts to creep the reader out. In my case, however, he fails. The protagonist children act with maturity beyond their years. Emma and her friends especially, accept everything that goes on without question or incredulity. Emma never really seems like she’s scared. She is haunted more by her own guilt than by the very real unmade. Although maybe that’s the point.

Throughout the book, when a character feels the need to swear, Hussey says that they swear, and never uses the actual word. I suspect most 16 year old horror fans have read fiction containing swear words. There’s not even any minor swears in Haunted. Which suggests that this is aimed at a slightly younger audience. Almost like a ‘my first ghost story’. In that case, it probably works fine. A young teen who hasn’t read horror would need a lot of explanation of the rules and wouldn’t be distracted by clichés (I mean, the American Nick is a jeans and white tee bike riding type of cliché).

There’s nothing wrong with Hussey’s writing. It has a slightly old-school style, almost as if Stephen King was writing for a young audience. Indeed, it was only once Nick had come to town when I realised that this wasn’t set in America (maybe I drifted during an early passage). The dialogue is less than believable; way too much exposition. The prose seemed more comfortable when creating atmosphere and describing locations. The idea of the Ghost Machine, and the story of Emma coming to terms with the afterlife are well delivered, although the ending and subsequent coda were obvious from the outset (for a seasoned horror fan). While I’m way beyond the target audience, I appreciated the book for what it is, and enjoyed it. Was I scared? No. Did I bite my nails? No. Would I if I were 13? Possibly.

AUTHOR: William Hussey
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press

Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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