House of Spines by Michael J. Malone

Review published on October 10, 2017.

I read Malone’s A Suitable Lie last year and I liked it a lot but House of Spines trumps it in my view. Ranald McGhie is a somewhat unstable person, suffering from mental health issues relating to family events. So when he inherits Newton Hall from a great-uncle he didn’t even know about you can imagine it throws him into a bit of a tailspin.

From the off, Newton Hall is a major character in the book. With books everywhere this truly is the House of Spines with a life of its own. Ran goes to live in the house but there are certain places he is reluctant to explore. You might think one of these places might be the broken lift with the spooky mirror but no, he’s drawn there and to the woman he thinks he sees there.

It’s such a well-plotted story. I sometimes struggle with suspending belief when I’m reading but if a story is done well then I can do it and this is one of those times. None of it seemed implausible to me. The various strands intertwined to make a complex and clever tale with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

The characters are such intriguing ones. Ran aside, we have his great-uncle, Alexander Fitzpatrick. We never meet him but he’s there in the background the whole time. The housekeeper, Mrs Hackett and her husband, Danny, who looks after the gardens and caretaking, Ran’s ex-wife, Martie, and neighbour, Donna, and the people he meets when he moves to Newton Hall, Suzy, Liz, Ken, Marcus, Rebecca. They all added something to the story, whether it’s to help Ran understand more about the house and his uncle or whether it’s to help ground him during his major life changes.

Billed as psychological thriller meets gothic, House of Spines is compulsive reading. I loved how the mystery of the house, the woman that Ran sees, the family dramas all unfolded. Ran is a very unreliable protagonist. We don’t know if what he is seeing is real or not. This makes it very exciting for the reader. Is it a symptom of his mental health problems or can he really see a woman in the mirror?

This is a chilling book with a thrilling ending. I thought it was a fabulous read and proves Malone’s skill in turning his hand to different genres.

Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes 5/4

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone
Orenda 9781910633861 pbk Sep 2017

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