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Wednesday, 2 April 2008
The House at Midnight
by Lucie Whitehouse
From the opening page, I was hooked on this brooding, psychological suspense story from Lucie Whitehouse. Even the cover is alluring!
After the suicide of his uncle Patrick, a successful art dealer, Lucas Heathfield inherits Stoneborough Manor, an isolated mansion in Oxfordshire. It quickly becomes a perfect retreat for his close-knit friends from London. Jo, the narrator, is thrilled when Lucas – who is her oldest friend - finally declares his love, soon after their first visit on New Year’s Eve. She’s always hoped they would get together. However, Jo soon starts to sense something malevolent and oppressive about the house. It seems to be having a strange effect on Lucas, who becomes haunted by the death of his uncle and obsessed by cine films of his mother’s friends at Stoneborough, thirty years earlier. The group is strangely similar to their own and the films reveal things about Lucas's family that he never suspected before.
As the house’s energy starts to affect them all, Jo finds herself drawn to Greg, a newcomer to their group, and over a hot, sultry summer secrets are spilled and rivalries forged as friendships begin to unravel.
This is real Barbara Vine and Donna Tartt territory - an insecure group of people sharing an old house - and Lucie Whitehouse ratchets up the tension in this eerily atmospheric debut. Stoneborough leaps off the page in a Gothic manner, and the cast of characters are engaging and vividly portrayed. It’s an intimate look at growing up, changing group dynamics and how money can change people, but the real star of the story is the house itself.
As I live in the Chilterns I can also vouch for the author’s descriptions of the area, which are satisfyingly authentic!
reviewed by Karen Clarke