Very pleased to be on the tour for The Crooked House with Christobel Kent. A terrific haunting read this one – here is an extract for you followed by my review.
Thirteen Years Ago
When it starts again she is face down on her bed with her hands over her ears and she feels it more than hears it. A vibration through the mattress, through the flowered duvet, through the damp pillow she’s buried her face in. It comes up from below, through the house’s lower three storeys. BOOM. She feels it in her throat.
Wait, listen: one, two, three. BOOM.
Is this how it begins?
Leaning on the shelf over the desk, wooden letters spelling her name jitter against the wall. They were a present on her seventh birthday, jigsawn by Dad, E.S.M.E. The family’d just moved in, unloading their stuff outside this house they called the crooked house, she and Joe, as the sun went down over the dark marsh inland. Creek House to Crooked House, after the tilt to its roofline, its foundations unsteady in the mud, out on its own in the dusk. Mum was gigantic with the twins, a Zeppelin staggering inside with bags in each hand. We need more space now, is how they told her and Joe they were moving. It was seven years ago, seven plus seven. Now she’s fourteen, nearly. Fourteen next week.
Ah, go on, Gina had said. Just down it. Then, changing tack, You can give it me back, then.
Esme’s been back an hour. She isn’t even sure Joe saw her pass the sitting-room door, jammed back on the sofa and frowning under his headphones: since he hit sixteen he’s stopped looking anyone in the eye. The girls, a two-headed caterpillar in an old sleeping bag on the floor, wriggled back from in front of the TV, twisting to see her. Letty’s lolling head, the pirate gap between Mads’s front teeth as she grins up at her, knowing. She mouths something. Boyfriend. Esme turns her face away and stomps past.
Mum opening the kitchen door a crack, leaning back from the counter to see who it is. Frowning like she can’t place her, she gets like that a lot these days. What are you doing back? Esme doesn’t answer: she is taking the stairs three at a time, raging.
Outside the dark presses on the window, the squat power station stands on the horizon, the church out on the spit that looks no bigger than a shed from here, the village lights distant. Make all the noise you like out here, Dad’s always saying, no one can hear.
Hands over your ears and never tell.
On the bed she lies very still, willing it to go, to leave the house. Whatever it is.
Her hands were already over her ears, before it started. Why? The boom expands in her head and she can’t even remember now. All she knows is, she was standing at the window, now she’s on the bed.
She grapples with detail. She heard a car. There were voices below in the yard and, after, noises downstairs. Something scraping across the floor, a low voice muttering and she didn’t want to deal with it, with his questions; she flung herself down on the bed and the tears began to leak into the pillow. She would have put on her music but she didn’t want him to know she was back.
Now. A sound, a human sound, just barely: a wounded shout, a gasp, trying to climb to a scream that just stops, vanishes. And in the silence after it she hears breathing, heavy and ragged; up through three storeys and a closed door, it is as if the house is breathing. And Esme is off the bed, scrabbling for a place to hide.
On the marsh behind the house there are the remains of an old hut with a little rotted jetty. The tide is beginning to come up, gurgling in its channels, trickling across the mud that stretches inland, flooding the clumps of samphire and marsh grass and the buried timbers. Behind her the house stands crooked in the wind freshening off the estuary.
The lights of the police cars come slowly, bumping down the long track, an ambulance, the cab lit. It is three in the morning but the inky dark is already leaching to grey behind the church on the spit. One of the coldest June nights on record, and it takes them a while to find her. She doesn’t make a sound.
Alison is as close to anonymous as she can get: with no ties, no home, a backroom job, hers is a life lived under the radar. She’s a nobody; she has no-one and that’s how she wants it.
But once Alison was someone else: once she was Esme Grace, a teenager whose bedroom sat at the top of a remote and dilapidated house on the edge of a bleak estuary. A girl whose family, if not happy, exactly, was no unhappier than anyone else’s – or so she thought.
This was an extremely atmospheric haunting tale, very addictive and beautifully written. A definite page turner for sure and one that will stay with you.
Alison used to be Esme – until a terrible tragedy found her with a name change and new location, she has worked hard to leave the past behind her and she keeps it hidden from those around her. When her boyfriend Paul persuades her to acccompany him to a wedding, she is reluctantly drawn back to her childhood home and finds herself haunted by memories of that terrible time and its aftermath. But memory is a strange and wonderful thing and as she reconnects with people from back then, she realises that the truth she has believed for so long may be a false one.
Intelligently plotted to keep you right in the story, this is a psychological mystery with a really likeable and sympathetic heroine at its heart – Alison/Esme is damaged yet braver than she thinks she is and you will be right there with her as she works her way through some difficult memories and tries to untangle the web of deceit, half truths and childhood innocence. The theme of child memory versus adult memory is extremely fascinating, as Alison puts a grown up spin on her flashbacks, especially relating to her parents and siblings. It is endlessy captivating and compelling throughout.
Surrounding Alison are various eclectic and intriguing supporting characters, some of which may be friend, some foe, all eminently enthralling and elegantly drawn. The relationship between Paul and Alison is definitely gripping and as it developed over the course of the novel I was jumping between wanting Alison to tell him everything and wanting her to tell him nothing. Some more peripheral characters, such as Kay and Aunt Polly I would have liked to know more about – of the rest they are all wonderfully puzzling – little conundrums that solve themselves over the course of the reading experience.
The sense of place is magnificently captured – the small community closing ranks around its own, the estuary at times both creepy and beautiful – and of course at the heart of it the little “Crooked House” of the title – the place where Esme morphed into Alison and this story has its soul. Brilliantly achieved.
Overall then a great read – one of the ones to look out for in January, a top notch tale that makes you very eager to see what the author comes up with next and also revisit her previous novels.
Find out more here: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/k/christobel-kent/
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Happy Reading Folks!