The House on Cold Hill (Book Review)

Written by: Peter James, 2015
Published in the UK by: Macmillan
320 pages


Although perhaps best known for his crime thriller series starring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, my only prior exposure to the work of best-selling novelist Peter James is the unsettlingly surreal stand-alone Perfect People (2011), which leaves you on a jaw-dropping reveal.

For this reason, I was rather excited to dip into James’ straight-up horror oeuvre, which he recently expanded with the October publication of The House on Cold Hill. And what better time than Christmas for a ghost story?

Set in the titular Cold Hill House, a dilapidated Georgian manor in the sleepy Sussex countryside, we follow the amiable and optimistic young Harcourt family – website designer Ollie, professional wife Caro and Instagram-obsessed, dog-loving daughter Jade – who soon realise there is more than dry rot and financial heartache to worry about in their dream project home…

From the surprisingly brutal cold-open (which I had to re-read, so shocked was I at the fate which befell who I had wrongly assumed were the main characters!), James crafts a swift and pacey traditional ghost story. As sightings of spectral old women, shimmering orbs and long-dead neighbours ratchets up, I legitimately flitted between chills and goosebumps at almost a bi-chapter rate.

It is in presenting the more established and traditional aspects of the hauntings that The House on Cold Hill excels, while the modern accommodations (FaceTime sightings, slanderous ghost-written emails, disappearing photos from iCloud) do feel slightly crowbarred in to bring the action into the present day and appeal to a modern audience (even Breaking Bad and “Uptown Funk” get superfluous mentions).

Nevertheless, I was compelled to read on – often uttering the oft-detrimental phrase “just one more chapter…” – my enthusiasm heightened by the short, sharp sections and kinetic tempo. As the supernatural occurrences become more innovative and malevolent and the body count rises, I was seriously enjoying myself, to the point where – rather selfishly – I didn’t want the house’s horrors to be unearthed or the phenomena to cease.

When a resolution does arrive, in keeping with the rhythm of the novel it is rather sudden and out of the blue, and to a degree is somewhat anti-climactic, but it is also twisty and inventive enough to leave you questioning and wondering and itching to go back search for clues earlier on. To leave such an impression deems The House on Cold Hill a success – albeit one that isn’t without imperfections – and I would eagerly encourage all fans of the genre to check it out this winter.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars


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