John Stedman is an investigator who uses his sound engineering career and equipment to debunk and find the scientific explanation for hauntings, or at least what people believe are hauntings. To promote his new book he agrees to take on a particular case, that of the Dawlish Inn, at the request of a magazine editor who promises a detailed feature story in return.
I really liked the initial case we get to see John work prior to going to the Dawlish, which sets up his scientific, methodical approach. Someone needs help figuring out why they feel discomfort in a certain room in their house, and John’s explanation is smart and believable. We get some good background on John’s home life and family, as well as his ear condition that makes him hyper sensitive to sound.
As John arrives at the Dawlish Inn, I was glad to see that the usual cliches of the music stopping and stranger danger looks were avoided. He’s accompanied by reporter Matt and photographer Lisbeth who are there to document the story for the magazine. We get some dark tales about ghosts seen at the Inn from locals that really ratchets up the foreboding tone. There is also the sense that there is something not quite right, but it’s done in a subtle way.
In a book about hauntings the key is the presentation of said hauntings. You need the mystery. You need the fear and uncertainty. You don’t want to see too much too soon and lose the tension. Thankfully, details are given sparingly as the story builds. John, Matt and Lisbeth all have strange experiences of unease while in the dark cellar beneath the Inn, with brief images half seen out of the corner of their eyes. All the characters have interesting and distinct personalities and we do genuinely fear for our protagonist’s safety. The experiences in the cellar stretch them psychologically.
This book has a great tone throughout and it’s a rewarding slow burn. By slow burn I certainly don’t mean boring, just that it’s tense and builds steadily. Creepiness and subtlety are the order of the day for this book. If you like your books like this rather than gore and in your face violence, then this is the book for you.
Reviewed by Andrew Tadman. @thebooksofblood.