The Shadow House
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Alex Ives has arrived in Pine Ridge, an off-the grid eco village, hoping to hide out from her controlling husband and father of baby Kara. A few hours north of Sydney, the village is a peaceful place, built on an old flower farm and surrounded by woods.
Predictably Alex’s teenage son Ollie is less than impressed with the isolated village, smack bang in the middle of nowhere, lacking all the places teenagers like to hang out. However, after Ollie left his last school in the shadow of a scandal, Alex is hoping this will be a fresh start for all of them where her children can be safe and she can rebuild her life in a close and supportive community.
Alex sets about getting used to her new home by trying to get to know people and becoming involved in the life and events of the village. The founder and community leader, Kit Vestey, is certainly very welcoming, as well as very good looking, although she notices many of the women are drawn to him. Everyone in the village seems friendly and welcoming, except for Maggie, one of the original settlers, who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Alex.
On the hill above the village Alex can see a dilapidated house, which Kit explains is the old farmhouse belonging to the farm the village is built on. The farmer and his wife sold up after their son Gabriel disappeared and was never seen again.
“The bones come first. A gift, but nothing wanted. Next, a doll: a likeness, a promise. And the blood marks the choice. It finds a face and then you know.”
Right from this opening paragraph, this psychological thriller casts an unsettling atmosphere, telling us that all is not well and drawing us into an almost gothic tale of two mothers and their teenage sons. With an unhappy teen and a fractious, teething baby to cope with, Alex is already feeling on edge when disturbing events start to happen around her. First a dead bird in a box outside her house, followed by a strange doll and then a threatening letter. Who could be doing this and why? Is it Maggie or has Alex’s husband found her or is it just kids playing a cruel trick? Wanting to protect her children but determined not to keep on running, Alex’s search for answers takes her to the old farmhouse where she wonders if secrets in the past might be the key to what is happening to her today.
The plot builds slowly with the arrival of strange packages, odd noises in the night, spooky symbols carved into trees and rumours of a witch in the woods all helping to raise the tension and create the sense of foreboding. I found the growing romance between Kit and Alex an unnecessary distraction that tended to dampen the growing suspense, but the climactic scenes on the night of the summer solstice certainly turned it up again, as long held secrets emerged from the shadows. With it’s interesting setting, flawed characters and eerie atmosphere this is an engrossing and entertaining read.
With thanks to St Martins Press via Netgalley for a copy to read. Expected publication April 5.