Former prison warden Herbert Russell lives alone in a large and remote 17th century house in Dartmoor. One night, during a full moon, he is clobbered on the head with a hammer. Days later his children – sons Martin and Rob, daughter Grace – gather for the reading of his will. The expected familial bickering ensues, but then Rob’s son Timmy suddenly disappears into thin air. Who killed Herbert? Where has Timmy gone? Why is the cellar of the house bricked up, and why do the guests keep hearing angry whispers as they sleep?
First things first: this book is bonkers. It’s certifiable. It’s nutso. It makes NO sense. And though this is by no means intentional (I think) it’s also frequently hilarious. I genuinely do not know how to rate this book – because it is BAD yet also, simultaneously, very entertaining.
Some of the supernatural elements are genuinely somewhat scary – Masterton draws upon local Dartmoor folklore, always a good idea – and the description of the house is creepy enough. The real problem with The House of a Hundred Whispers is the characters.
It’s not just that they’re flat, it’s that they frequently behave increasingly strangely. That has nothing to do with the plot. For example, Rob and his wife Vicky keep forgetting that their son is missing. They’ll literally go “oh, poor Timmy, he must be so afraid. Anyway, what’s for dinner? Pizza? Not again!” They’ll be going about their day, occasionally remembering their son has gone missing and then they’ll exclaim how troubled they are by this whole thing. And then they forget him again.
And it’s not just them. There’s a particularly nasty and out of place gang rape scene where the victim (who, of course, is rescued by a man) simply gets up and walks off as if nothing has happened. The fact that the perpetrators casually keep hanging around doesn’t seem to bother her either. Grace, meanwhile, is gay. Her girlfriend’s name is Portia. She shaves her head. Together they watch films about “a powerful lawyer being sued for sexual harrasment while smoking a spliff.” It’s like the book was written specifically for the Daily Mail audience. Timmy, meanwhile, is one of those characters whose entire description is “child”. He’s five. He whines about food (which is realistic) then writes a fantasy story about an egg (which… HE’S FIVE). I began to suspect Masterton was pulling my leg when Timmy went missing and the first place they looked was a fucking well.
The book isn’t genuinely scary. It’s fun, sure, and an easy read. It has things about it that are interesting (there’s a whole story about a priest hole), if not actually creepy. There’s also imagery that made me laugh out loud, such as a man’s skeleton being pulled out through his skin into the walls, while the rest of him just kind of flops down onto the floor. I don’t know what the intended effect was but I doubt it was designed for the unbridled hilarity it brought me.
Overall, though, I had fun reading this book. Stupid though it may be, it didn’t annoy me nearly as much as some other stupid books I’ve read lately. I genuinely don’t know if Masterton was tongue in cheek or not, but if so, I salute him and if not, well, I enjoyed myself. At the end of the day that’s all that matters.