The Haunting of Ashburn House * Darcy Coates * Book review

I really liked this book and I’ll tell you why! There is nothing better than a gothic-style house, a newcomer that finds there is a gruesome secret behind it and the moment they find out it’s haunted and they’re in mortal danger. There were several pieces of literature lying about my house concerning haunted houses (do you remember the one that was made into several horror movies (Amitiville Horror), or The Shining from Stephen King). This one was good because the mystery surrounding the previous owner was hearsay mostly and you discover along with the character what really happened.

The story revolves around Adrienne – a poor ghost writer ($20 in her hand to last her until the next paycheck), her fluffy cute coon-mix cat Wolfgang (from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and her inheritance. Even though her mother insisted they had no living relatives, a great aunt called Edith leaves a mansion for Adrienne to come and live in. Having little to no choice, she moves in and finds that the house has electricity only on the first floor, the second floor hallway is filled with portraits of the same people and there are messages inscribed in wood in several locations of the house.

“No mirrors”

“Is it Friday? Light the candle”

“Remember your secrets”

“They are still dead”

This sounds like a good beginning for any horror book.

Adrienne soon makes some new acquaintances from the village below the house and she finds the rumors surrounding the previous family are quite interesting. Apparently Edith Ashburn was the only survivor of a serial killer who brutally dismembered her parents and her aunt and uncle living in the house. After having lived with her grandparents, she inherits the estate when she turns 18 and moves in. Ever since, she was an eccentric spinster who would not allow people onto her property, wear Victorian style gowns even in the heat of summer and lit a candle on every Friday of the week. This is how they knew she was dead – one Friday the light did not show.

Adrienne chews this over and starts imagining how her great-aunt could have been like: strict, severe, reclusive.

As strange phenomenon start happening around the estate – like a total silence at sundown – accompanied by blackouts – she senses the house might not be as empty as it looks. She goes to the local library to find out what happened with the murders and finds that all the news-clippings from that period are missing – carefully cut out of the magazines. Upon hearing that Edith was the last person to ask for these clippings – she starts suspecting that her great-aunt might not have been as innocent as she made out to be. Maybe Edith killed her parents.

On her way back to the house she gets attacked by a rotting corpse that looks like Edith and gets bitten by her ankle. I started to think this book will turn into The Walking Dead

Adrienne locks herself into the house and tends to her wounds. She and her cat are now facing starvation as there is not enough food to last and no telephone to call for help. And the monster outside keeps prowling, looking for a way in…

She is smart though and makes a fire and throws some rubber plasticated items into it hoping that the thick black smoke will alert the people in the village that she is in trouble. But the corpse outside is powerful and brings all the smoke down to the ground where it turns to mist and then disappears. Strange things start happening around the house as well, the portraits come alive and show how they looked like when they were killed. Gruesome dismemberment. As she prepares her escape, Adrienne stumbles across another hint – a box of the clippings that Edith took from the newspaper where she finds out that 5, not 4 bodies were taken out of the house. Who was the 5th person?

haunted-house.jpg

The mystery gets slowly unravelled as Adrienne sees Edith in the mirrors around the house pointing at the basement. In the basement she finds a letter that her aunt wrote explaining everything – there was a twin sister, a sociopath with mental powers who could make anything she believed in happen.

The twin sister, Eleanor, believed in the following things:

  • By killing someone she would take over their remaining life span (Death Note concept)
  • She could grow strong by moonlight
  • She could be weakened by fire (this is why the petrol lamp and the candle worked but the torch didn’t)
  • She believed a part of her soul could be trapped in a photo

This is why Edith went to the top floor of the house every Friday to light a candle and make sure the light of the candle settled on the picture of her dead sister. To weaken her.

Adrienne uses this knowledge to fight off the demented corpse twin and with the help of her trusted feline companion, she manages to cause some damage and eventually burn her to ashes.  She is taken to the hospital afterwards and everything seems to work out for the girl as one of her friends is keen to start a ghost tour around the mansion and split the profits and one reclusive shortcut running through her property seemed welcomed by the townspeople which used it and in returned did chores for Adrianne like wash the windows and mow the lawn. All worked out well.

There are a few things which I didn’t like about Adrianne and I wish she could have done it differently – maybe she would not have gotten herself in that mess

What to do when you move into a new house

  • Familiarize yourself with the house plan (she did not know she had a basement until the last chapter of the book)
  • Find all the exits and entries (back door? front door?)
  • Check out the bedrooms and look for the light, gas and water switches
  • Make sure you have a contract with the local supply companies for these three as they are all essential
  • Stock up on food – especially if you are far away from town
  • Gather wood if wood is essential (she wasted good daylight ours moping about town and then she had no kindling left)
  • If you find yourself in need of a fire, sacrifice some bad books (like The Captive Prince) to get a good fire started
  • Check out the house history – especially any gruesome details that can help
  • Remove the previous owner’s marks on the house. The first thing I would have done is a massive clear out. Paintings in the hallway watching your every move? Find their worth and either donate them to the local museum or put them on ebay. Storage if they have a sentimental value.
  • Find loads of old-style victorian clothes in the wardrobe? Do a clear-out on a steampunk sale. You’ll pay your bills in no time.
  • Throw away any unusable items and make a catalog of what’s available and where you can find it (ie batteries or napkins or cutlery)

The last thing that bothered me about the book was the position of the letter than Edith wrote to Abigal. Why the hell was it on the basement floor? Did she expect Adrienne to move in and go to the basement directly? It would have been wiser in the bedroom or in the kitchen table.

And if you’re leaving a freaking mansion as an inheritance to someone, why not leave some cash too? It’s not like Edith paid with air when she went into town. This would have made the starvation prospect an unlikely possibility and maybe she could have gotten a phone.

Otherwise, it was a good and entertaining book. Loved her other horror stories!

Quarter to Midnight: Fifteen Horror Short Stories by Darcy Coates

You can get the book from here:

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