The House Next Door: A Ghost Story – a novel by Darcy Coates. Of course I would have guessed that this was a ghost story even if the last phrase of the title was omitted. This house, the one next door, would it be haunted? Of course it would. For you see, Coates just happens to be the amazon.com queen of modern day haunted house fiction in my opinion. She understands this genre well, knowing when the stairs should creak and the shadows will creep.
It’s been a while since I last visited the works of Coates. I was surprised to see that her bibliography has doubled. I knew her as an author that wrote novellas with repetitive titles such as “The Haunting of (*Insert name of house here*) House” books. A short catalog of short stories. Her bibliography has since expanded and The House Next Door: A Ghost Story is the first full length novel that I have read from her. (It didn’t disappoint) Search engines yield a lot more info on her than when I last researched her and her works. I have since found interviews (https://redadeptediting.com/darcy-coates/),many positive reviews, and finally, her picture is available! As Virginia Slims once said- “You’ve come a long way, baby!
For those new to Coates, her stories are admittingly formulaic, but they are page-turning. They are modern gothics that feature a mansion-like house, often with an old-world flavor. The atmosphere is what is expected and desired – the layout of the house is creatively detailed and the rooms and corridors have the descriptive power to ensnare readers within their walls. Unsettled spirits roam about these corridors, interacting creepily with certain pieces of furniture or decorative objects. But these are modern tales, so the house might be on the outskirts of the suburbs or the edge of a cosmopolitan town. They feature a female protagonist that is fleeing a former life. It could be a bad marriage, a complicated relationship with her immediate family or any a number of things. Alone, she moves to a new location and buys or rents one of these large , haunted abodes. After several brushes with supernatural phenomena, she finds herself entwined in the mystery that caused the haunting in the first place and it becomes her task to solve such a mystery. In the end she will succeed and live happily ever after with her cats. She will always have cats. Coates loves cats and so do her protagonists.
So, does House Next Door follow this formula? Mostly. After years of living in a strained relationship with her ailing mother, Jo is now on her own. With money she has inherited, she purchases a house in new neighborhood. But guess what? It’s not haunted! However, the house next door is! (Hmm, maybe that’s why the book is called “The House Next Door? Ya think?) Jo has watched residents of the house come and go. One family in particular fled the house in the middle of the night, leaving all their possessions behind. Never had she gotten to know any of these former residents. This changes when Anna moves in. Anna, a maker and seller of dolls, is hiding from her abusive ex, with whom she is keeping her new place of residence a secret. The two women become friends, but – can two women with troubled pasts be together without driving themselves crazy? Scratch that last question, which belongs in the intro for the sitcom The Odd Couple, albeit slightly different wording. The real question is – can these two women work together to thwart the evil spirit that dwells in the house without going crazy? Answer – negative. Both will experience bouts of insanity. But they will carry on. They must.
There aren’t many twists in this book. If there is a slight air of mystery about an unexplained phenomenon in the house that hints at the activity of a spirit, then the spirit is probably to blame. If Jo becomes paranoid that her friend’s ex is driving by her house to stalk her, then he is probably doing just that. There is an exception; the women will do something dark and serious. I didn’t see this coming.
I do not read Darcy Coates’ books for twists. Of these, unfortunately she seems to be in short supply. I do read her books for her writing style, for her flair for immersing me in a haunted house where ghosts might be hiding in any corner; a corner that has already been brought to life by means of descriptive storytelling. In The House Next Door – A Ghost Story, I love the way the ghost makes its presence known, seen by characters who look up the stairwell, past the stairs, then down the upstairs hallway. I love the forms that come into being inside the dancing curtains in the wind-deprived rooms. I love the way she describes the sad music that manifests mysteriously from the living room piano.
Darcy Coates knows how to haunt a house. This is why I read her books. There are so many I haven’t read. And I’m willing to bet her list will only get longer.
Let it be known – There are several other books out their in reading land with the title “The House Next Door.” James Patterson has such a book. Is it about a haunted house? Probably not. I have only read one of his books, but as far as I can tell, he’s a crime thriller kind of author, not a teller of ghost stories. But – the most famous haunted house book with that title is perhaps Anne River Siddons’ 1978 novel. And guess what? I am reading that now. Expect an upcoming review. But I will not compare these two stories, or do any kind of Coates Vs. Siddons. Apples and oranges my friends! The house to my left is an apple, the house to my right is an orange, and I’m just a nut in the middle!