This is the first novel I have read where the house is the main character and all other characters are secondary. Gallows Hill by Darcy Coates is an atmospheric horror novel that will scare the pants off of you, complete with destructive ghosts, underground tunnels and ghost dogs. Don’t be surprised if you keep the lights on all night. This one is scary!
Margot Hull has lived with her Grandmother since she was a young girl. Her parents, having given her up when she was eight years old, have had no contact with her for almost her entire life. So it surprises her when she is summoned to their funeral two decades later. She doesn’t know her parents at all so she is shocked when she finds out from the caretaker that she has inherited the Gallows Hill Winery from them along with their house on the property, but she has a sense of foreboding when she steps foot in the house. Something is not right. The house is dark, very dusty and unkempt. There are hallways blocked off and a strange statue in the living room made from bits and pieces of buttons, string and metal parts. But the oddest thing Margot finds is that there is no evidence that she ever lived there. All pictures of her have been removed, and they cut the pictures she was in to remove her.
Margot Hull’s first night at Gallows Hill is not without incident. There are bells hidden all over the house. There are bells ringing in most of the rooms and a lightbulb explodes when she turns on the light. It forced her to navigate in the dark to find out why the bells are ringing. She can hear footsteps outside and she is terrified. When she wakes up, there are nooses hanging around the perimeter of the house. When she inquires of Kant, the long time caretaker of Gallows Hill, he doesn’t seem surprised. From him, she learns the deeply troubled past of the winery and the curses it places upon his occupants. I found the history that Darcy Coates created in her story fascinating and well put together. It made sense and was explained clearly by the caretaker. Margot knows now that she is stuck there, even if she wanted to leave.
The atmosphere surrounding the haunted winery is so dark and eerie, with a gray cast to it. Being claustrophobic, the scariest parts to me were the underground tunnels. When Margot falls into a collapsed tunnel, with no way out but narrow dirt filled passages, it is absolutely terrifying and anxiety inducing.
While I found Gallows Hill to be a wonderful and scary ghost story, I wanted more back story on Margot. What was it like growing up with her grandmother? Does she have friends? Boyfriends? Did she go to college? I have found with most of Coates’ books; she gets lost in the details of some things and gives no details on others. An example would be the flowery language involving a glass of wine but no description to the reader of what Margot looks like. In some scenes she is overly pale and in another scene it describes her dark skin. Consistently, her hair is curly. As the reader, I wanted more details on the character and fewer descriptions of grass or wine. Gallows Hill is a slow burn, but once it takes off, you cannot put it down.