Too Near The Dead by Helen Grant
Fen is soon to be married to James, a successful novelist whose book she edited. Keen to relocate from London, the couple have just bought a recently-built modern home in rural Perthshire. Despite the almost perpetual grey drizzle, Barr Dubh House boasts a beautiful location and a generous portion of land, and Fen is looking forward to starting a freelance career and planning her wedding. But she soon finds herself plagued by horrifically vivid dreams of premature burial, and she's unsettled by fleeting glimpses of a figure dressed in lavender passing through her new home's grounds. Can the airy, new-build home be haunted? Or is Fen, often left alone in the remote property while James travels for work, going mad?
Too Near The Dead has the initial set-up of a classic Gothic thriller: a young woman, mostly alone in the world and recently swept off her feet by a charismatic man who might, it seems, be hiding something. The house might not be a Victorian mansion, but the landscape and climate around it make it every bit as atmospheric and unnerving as Manderley or Thornfield Hall.
However, as we learn more about Fen, it seems that things might be more complicated than that. How reliable is Fen as a narrator? She's an intelligent, capable and practical woman, but there are hints at a complicated past. Is Fen projecting her repressed trauma on to the house, or is the house projecting its own dark history on to Fen?
Like all the best ghost stories, Too Near The Dead has plenty of quietly creepy goings-on to send a shiver down your spine, but also some moments that are fully terrifying. The opening chapter evokes such a powerful sense of rising panic that I had to look away and take some deep breaths - let's just say that claustrophobics should proceed with caution. Whatever it is that's at the root of the disturbances surrounding Fen at Barr Dubh, there's a real sense of bitter malevolence to it that reminded me of Susan Hill's The Woman In Black, and even Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. This is a ghost story where the protagonist is in genuine peril, and as Fen starts to get to the bottom of exactly what might be happening, we find ourselves on quite the rollercoaster ride as the story races to its conclusion.
If you like a proper, creepy, fireside Gothic ghost story, this one comes with my wholehearted recommendation. It's got everything you could want from the genre and more.
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