Anita is an inexperienced, young art appraiser who jumps at the opportunity to catalog an artist’s collection following his death. The reclusive artist painted abundantly. He left such an extensive collection that Anita has to spend several days at his remote coastal home. There is no phone service or WiFi. It’s a daunting task to stay in the portrait filled old house alone.
The author brings us a classic haunted house vibe. The ageing building is all creaks and groans. To begin with, mysterious little things happen as the tension and the notion that all is not right builds. The atmosphere is fuelled by the portraits and their sadness as presented in oils. Anita cannot feel relaxed for a moment, as she has the feeling that the eyes in the portraits are watching. You feel the sense of isolation in the house, with just Anita and the paintings and the cold, creaky house. Anita’s situation is made more complicated by a past traumatic experience that haunts her along with what she is experiencing at the house.
A foreboding messenger arrives, coming in out of the rain to warn against staying in the house. Despite this being a familiar trope, it is naturally blended into the story so it doesn’t feel cliched, and the character does return during various points of the book. Following her initial few days alone, Anita is joined by the lawyer for the estate and then by other members of her valuation team from the auction house. The introduction of these characters changes the dynamic. The subtle haunting gathers pace and the new arrivals provide victims for the evil that is present in the house. People start disappearing, nerves become fraught, and paranoia envelops the rest of the group.
Painted is an effective haunted house book, favouring tension and subtlety over outright violence and kills. As such, this may appeal to a broader audience, both in terms of age and those who are not fans of overt gore. The truth behind the haunting is slowly revealed, along with how it ties into the many paintings in the house. In Painted, we see that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and in this case the eyes are on canvas.
Reviewed by Andrew Tadman. @thebooksofblood