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Quiet Houses

Quiet Houses

Written by: Simon Kurt Unsworth
Published by: Dark Continents (Septmenber 20, 2011)
Page Count: 148
ISBN-10: 0983624518
ISBN-13: 978-0983624516
Where to buy:
Dark Continents, Amazon, and other fine book retailers

Publisher’s Comments:
THE HOUSES ARE QUIET.
IT IS THEIR RESIDENTS WHO ARE SCREAMING…
“No-one could be that unhappy and be alive…” A chambermaid’s seemingly innocent request is granted, an act of kindness that has dire consequences for a guest at THE ELMS, MORECAMBE…
“I wish I had been right; I wish that it had been a man, or death alone, that had found her…” An unearthly light in an abandoned bungalow resolves the mystery of a missing child, but no human force has taken her. An entity that fishes for children is in THE MERRY HOUSE, SCALE HALL…
“Go beyond the graves, and they will come to you.” An invitation to a clifftop graveyard leads to a harrowing chase by things that remain unseen BEYOND ST PATRICK’S CHAPEL.
“The great delight in being part of the Save Our Shit crew was that sometimes they could persuade those designers of the present and the future to save or incorporate the past into their designs.” In THE OCEAN GRAND hotel, work is underway to upgrade the building but something is stalking the workers…
“Something white came out. Something white, screaming and screaming…” Jobs fit for heroes, they were promised after the Great War. They were given something else in THE TEMPLE OF RELIEF AND EASE.
There is a hidden agenda to paranormal researcher Richard Nakata’s investigations into these houses. A commission that witnesses cattle lowing in the cowsheds of STACK’S FARM long after they’ve been slaughtered, and a reckoning in the showhouse of 24 GLASSHOUSE, as he and his colleagues pay the price for creating their own ghost…
Simon Kurt Unsworth reinvents the classic English ghost story with a portmanteau collection that takes the haunted house genre and makes it scream…quietly.
Because the most terrifying screams are the silent ones.

Hello Ghouls and Boils,

I have known about Simon’s book, “Quiet Houses”, for some time now. I was thrilled when it found a home and when a review copy came across my desk, I knew just the Minion to assign it to. So, without further ado, I will let Marc tell you all the gory details. Enjoy, my fiends!

Abstrusely,
Sarah L. Covert

Quiet Houses, by Simon Kurt Unsworth, is the best book I’ve read in 2012. OK, it is also the first I’ve read this year, but so far we’re off to a great start!

Quiet Houses is a modern version of the classic Ghost Story. Actually, it’s a few ghost stories all wrapped into a central narrative centering around one Richard Nakata.

What can I say about Nakata? Well, he is the first protagonist in a long time who I actually truly empathize with. He reads more like a human being and less like a character. He is curious, empathetic, braver than he gives himself credit for, and yet fragile. He also has a “crisis of faith”, of sorts, though as a scientist his epiphanies come in the form of the dialectic between his belief in the empirical and his experiences based on his own psychic sensitivity.

The story follows Nakata as he conducts research into ghostly phenomena around a series of people and places. Sometimes he simply interviews people about their own experiences, but other times he is right there in the thick of the paranormal activity.

Some of the vignettes read like they may have been written as separate short stories and inserted into the Nakata narrative (second time I’ve seen this in a book I’ve reviewed for SNS, though maybe that’s just my own interpretation). These insertions in no way take away from the credibility of the work as a whole, and at no time did they feel ham-fisted or forced. On the contrary, they fit quite well into the “interview” framework Unsworth has set up.

There are some very tense moments, as Nakata or the various one-off heroes tell their stories. Unsworth’s descriptions are vivid, and I could easily envision the places and people he wrote about. In a few of the scenes (particularly the walking trail and SOS crew chapters) I could literally envision myself there, and consider my life the richer for having seen those places.

So, how were the ghost stories themselves, you ask? Brilliant for the most part, I answer. Unsworth is inventive and creative, taking old tropes and time-honored tales of haunted places and inserting his own unique take on the underlying reasons and catalysts for the ghostly presences.

But alas, there is always a negative. In Quiet Houses, I found that the tension and drama building up to each climax to be far superior to the climaxes themselves. Unsworth has such a subtle touch in ramping up the adrenaline of his characters (and his readers) that it came as a big letdown to me when, time and again, the ghostly manifestations read too much like the “jump scenes” so popular in bad modern horror films. I had high hopes that the big reveals would be handled with the same delicacy that permeated the rest of the novel, but such was not the case. These scenes just seemed disappointingly out of character with the rest of the book’s flavor.

Final Thoughts:
This is an excellent book. Characterization, setting, plotting, tension, pacing — all these are handled beautifully. Plus, the stories are FUN to read. Other than the actual manifestations, which are a bit over-the-top for my tastes, these ghost stories are suspenseful and scary. Had the climaxes been written as skillfully and subtly as their setups, I would have given Quiet Houses a perfect review; but as it is this book still gets a resounding 4 1/2 out of 5 tentacles.

Marc Nocerino, Minion (Columnist/Reviewer)

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