reviewed by Valerie J. Brooks
valeriejbrooks.com | Goodreads
This is sure to be one of the best suspense novels of 2023. Richly atmospheric, gothic, eerie, and pulse-pounding, Carole Johnstone threads The Blackhouse with supernatural elements and Norse mythology while keeping us firmly grounded on the atmospheric island of Kilmeray. Set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, the small fishing village of Blairmore holds so many secrets that it sometimes seems to be a character unto itself.
meet Maggie MacKay when she returns to the village twenty years after a strange incident happened to her when she was five years old. Maggie proclaimed to be a man from the village, Andrew MacNeil, and insisted he was murdered. Believing her daughter was psychic, Maggie’s mom took her to the village with a documentary filmmaker.
The media quickly exploited the story, causing the village locals to turn against them and each other. Haunted by the experience, and now that her mother is dead, Maggie needs to know the truth about what happened when she was five. Maggie discovers that Andrew MacNeil was actually Robert Reid and rents The Blackhouse where Robert, his wife, and child lived, hoping this will help her find the truth. Robert hid a terrible secret and that’s why he changed his name. She’s certain he was murdered even though the villagers insist it was suicide.
Told by Maggie and Robert in alternating chapters, the story twists and turns with new revelations. Maggie knows the villagers are keeping secrets too, especially after she finds out a young boy died the same night Robert did. Neither body was found. As Maggie digs into Robert’s past, someone leaves mummified crows on her doorstep. One villager whispers threats in her ear.
Between battering storms, the villagers’ hostility, and a stalker, Maggie fears for her life. Soon she finds safety in Will who wants to understand her and who tries to keep her safe. They fall in love, but as she draws closer to the truth, she realizes she can trust no one.
Brilliantly written in literary prose, Johnstone captures a world that creeps into your senses while at the same time, making you love these people who gather at the pub and know each other intimately. We learn what it’s like to live off the land and sea and how the peat bogs can mummify yet provide warmth when harvested. At times the village feels evil, and at others, so simply normal. It’s just people banding together to protect their lives and livelihood. Maggie, the outsider, threatens all that, yet in many ways, she belongs to the village. Multi-layered and mystical, The Blackhouse will hook you, reel you in, and capture your imagination until the last thrilling twist. Just remember to breathe.
Thanks to Carole Johnstone, Scribner/Simon & Schuster, and Clare Maurer, Senior Publicist for an arc and a hardcover edition.
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