The Haunting of Rookward House is a creepy horror novel and it’s the first book in a while to actually scare me. Main character Guy is down on luck. He’s living with his mom and unable to find a job. While helping Mom clean out the attic, he discovers the deed to Rookward House, which Mom doesn’t really remember inheriting. Mom seems a bit ditsy. Guy immediately decides that selling Rookward House is the answer to their problems as it will give them enough money to start over in a new town. Naturally, it’s not that simple.
As soon as Guy arrives at Rookward, he realizes the house needs major repairs. Rookward is a couple of hours from Guy’s mom’s house. It’s near an unnamed town, but on a huge tract of land so there aren’t any neighbors nearby. Guy decides to spend a few weeks alternating between staying at Rookward working on repairs and going home to Mom to rest and get supplies.
Creepy things start happening on the first day of repairs, but Guy dismisses it as fatigue causing his mind to play tricks on him. But as the days go by, he starts to think it isn’t all in his head. Now he’s trapped. He’s sunk too much money into Rookward to give up and leave, but he realizes staying may be dangerous.
It’s a great setup. Who hasn’t been in a situation where they knew they ought to leave but they felt they couldn’t? Whether it’s a toxic work environment or just walking somewhere that doesn’t feel right. The logical part of the brain fights with the gut instinct. We feel Guy’s desperation and understand why he stays, despite his fear.
The book is claustrophobic. While it takes part in a large house in the country, it quickly feels like Guy is trapped. He’s isolated, with no friend or ally at Rookward. He can’t get cell phone reception at the house. Even without the ghost, the house feels dangerous. There’s broken glass, rotten floorboards, mold, and stains that look an awful lot like blood. Without electricity, the house is pitch black at night, and there’s no way to prevent someone from entering it because of the broken doors and windows. Nothing about Rookward feels safe or comfortable.
Then there’s the ghost, Amy. The book description states that she tormented a family that lived in the house in the 1960s and now her ghost clings to it. But Guy doesn’t know about her or the house’s history for quite a while. By the time he realizes Amy is real and a threat, it’s too late. She wants to keep him with her at Rookward House forever. This is when the novel goes from creepy to a cat and mouse game of survival.
My only criticism of the book is that Guy is the only character to have much character development. I understand the decision. Taking time to make Mom, Amy, or any of the other characters as well-rounded as Guy would bog down the story. But I would have liked a bit more info on Mom and Amy’s histories so I could better understand their personalities. I’ve seen some criticisms saying Guy isn’t a very sympathetic character, but I like that. I find complicated characters more realistic.
If you like supernatural horror, check it out. Or pretty much any of Darcy Coates’s books. She’s an amazing writer with a real gift for horror.