The Haunting of Blackwood House is the second book of Darcy Coates that I have read and reviewed. It certainly won’t be the last. I admire her talent as a storyteller. I learned of her talents by exploring her novella The Haunting of Gillespie House. It treated me to a good old-fashioned haunting, so it was only natural that I would want to visit another of her haunted abodes. So The Blackwood House was next. This house accommodated me as well, nestling me with ghostly delights and treats of terror as I snuggled in my bed, reading only by the light of my e-reader. Thank you Darcy for taking in a late night lodger and leaving the lights off for me so that your ghosts may shine!
I foresee myself as becoming not merely a fan of her books, but a friend of her work as well. As any good friend should do, I accept the good along with the mediocre. So far I see no bad. Here is what’s good about The Haunting of Blackwood House: the haunting of Blackwood House. No, the preceding sentence is not an exercise in redundancy. What I am saying is that the haunted house itself is what makes this book. It has a rich back-story – build on grounds known to be a hotbed for supernatural energy, founded by a mysterious spiritualist many decades ago, to later be inhabited by an axe-wielding serial killer that turns victims into ghosts. The house changes ownership over the years and for each set of inhabitants, there is danger. It just so happens that the families that live in the house just can’t keep from killing each other.
Mara is the house’s latest resident. She lives there alone, but her boyfriend Neil keeps her company. Sometimes he sleeps over, but often Mara spends the night in Blackwood House alone. It is when she is by herself that the house tends to show off its ghostliness. Footsteps are heard in the attic. Voices of crying children are heard from the fireplace. There are the ghostly images of a hanging man in the foyer; of a deceased woman rocking an infant in the rocking chairs. There are some eerie moments here folks, and I love them all.
So, what is mediocre about this book? Answer – the characters. Mara was raised in a family of spiritualists. She has “the gift” but throughout the story, she is in denial of it to the point where she abhors all things religious and supernatural (later it will be revealed that her “gift” tends to feed the haunting). Her animosity can get under the skin of the reader when she constantly tries to rationalize away the ghostly phenomena. Mara is somewhat of an enigma. She is high maintenance yet independent minded. Her boyfriend Neil suffers on account of this, never knowing whether to step in to offer her assistance of back off in fear of cramping her style. In short, she is annoying and he is a doormat, and these two don’t break out of these molds too often. Their love story is a side story, that doesn’t really branch off or melt into the larger story of the haunted house. Therefore, it’s a bit distracting. Mind you, these aren’t “bad” characters; they are believable (as with Mara’s case, all of us are haunted by contradictions of character), they just lack that special something that absorbs readers into their essences.
It can be summed up as follows: Mara’s psychic abilities strengthen the haunting power of The Blackwood House. In turn, The Blackwood House, with its mysteries, history, and spooky spectacles, makes for a strong piece of haunted house fiction. The brawn of the book is enough to carry its weaker elements – the characters – to the home stretch. For at times, they are baggage for the larger story. But when the baggage becomes burdensome, have no fear, for soon the focus will return to the strengths of the story – and the reader will once again feel hauntingly at home.