Thursday, October 16, 2014

The House of Small Shadows

Keep one kitten, destroy the rest . . .

To say that Catherine Howard's life has been difficult would be an understatement. Given away at birth, picked on by bullies throughout her school years and beyond, prone to crippling panic attacks and surreal dissociative episodes, she's always been an outsider. After an unfortunate episode involving a spiteful coworker, Catherine loses both her job and the life she's built for herself in London. Things look hopeless for her until a kindly old gent named Leonard Osberne takes her under his wing and offers her a job as a valuer for his stable of eccentric--and wealthy--clients. Such a sweet old man, Leonard even has a cutesy nickname for Catherine: kitten. The job is interesting, but the best is yet to come when he lands her the find of the century: an immaculate collection of antique dolls--and more--belonging to elderly recluse Edith Mason, niece of London's most famous taxidermist, M. H. Mason. To catalog Mason's estate, Catherine must stay at her gothic Victorian manor, the Red House.

That's when things take a turn for the weird, and ultimately, for the worst. Valuation aside, Edith insists on exposing Catherine to all of her uncle's "art," dark and increasingly demented pieces that trigger disturbing childhood memories for Catherine. Add to that her unsettling feeling of being watched (by who? Wheelchair-bound Edith? Her silent housekeeper, Maude? Or worse, M. H. Mason's precious marionettes?) and Catherine feels herself coming undone. By the time she realizes that landing at the Red House was no stroke of fortune, it may be too late for her to leave. 

The House of Small Shadows is Adam Nevill's latest (The Ritual, Last Days), and with it he continues to live up to his well-deserved reputation as "Britain's answer to Stephen King," producing finely written contemporary horror that never fails to leave his readers looking over their shoulders. And if you've been hanging on to your childhood doll collection, The House of Small Shadows just might inspire you to get rid of it once and for all. Horror lovers, and fans of Clive Barker's early work particularly, will enjoy this.  

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