By: Stuart Neville
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Date: September2021
Reviewed by: Dianne Woodman
Review Date: August 20, 2021
The House of Ashes is a chilling story of physical and psychological maltreatment. The novel is comprised of dual timelines set in the present and about sixty years in the past. The present timeline focuses on Sara Keane and her fledgling association with Mary Jackson. The past timeline tells the story of Mary’s childhood.
Sara and her controlling husband, Damien, recently moved to Northern Ireland. They live in a house that is undergoing renovations after being gutted by a fire. The building is more than a century old. Mary, who is the former owner, shows up claiming Sara and her husband are trespassers. This is the motive for drawing Sara into a desire to discover what secrets the old house might be hiding. Will Sara uncover any mysteries that involve the house and concurrent odd happenings in her life?
The author then takes readers back sixty-plus years to when male family members are holding Mary, an adolescent, and abducted women in captivity. The circumstances in which they are living are horrifying and terrifying. Each one of the victims shares their own experience of the inhumane treatment they are being subjected to by captors who have imposed on them demeaning and subservient roles. There does not appear to be any feasible way to escape. Are the prisoners destined to spend the rest of their lives in captivity or will a miracle come to pass?
Stuart Neville has written a disquieting novel that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go. Readers get to see both the dark side and the positive side of human behavior, and the desperate measures taken by people in an unimaginable plight. Each of the characters, whether they are evil-doers or innocent victims, portray realistic personality traits. Neville superbly captures how atrocities committed against innocent victims can affect emotional and physical health. Even though a great deal of the book is about the fallout from abusive relationships, it also shows the strength of the human spirit and the benefits of optimism and friendship in the face of adversity.
In this page-turning novel, Neville skillfully braids two time periods for maximum suspense. The story is told from multiple perspectives with each chapter titled with the name of the viewpoint character. Readers get a glimpse into the personal history of different characters and gain an understanding of the motivation behind their behavior. Neville incorporates colloquial language that accurately fits in with the Northern Ireland setting. The story includes aggressive and violent behavior that is described in graphic detail and a smattering of mild profanity. The House of Ashes is scary good, but not for the faint of heart.
Quill says: The House of Ashes is an agonizing and suspenseful psychological thriller that sheds light on heartless behavior and the perseverance of the victims of those behaviors.