Darcy Coates was an author with whom I was not familiar, but she seemed to have quite the fan base on Amazon. Her bibliography (and biography) indicates that her passion is haunted house stories. Many of her novels have titles in variants of “The Haunting of (fill-in-the blank),” which might seem discouragingly generic or derivative, suggesting a bibliography consisting of, essentially, ghost stories adhering to a tired, recycled blueprint. I can’t really speak to whether or not that is, in fact, the case, but she is an author worthy of readers’ consideration—assuming, of course, the haunted house genre is one you already enjoy or one in which you wish to peek inside and measure your courage against the cold darkness within.
The House Next Door is a simple tale, but it alters the narrative point of view often used in stories of this type. The central character is not the one, necessarily, experiencing the haunting of the old Marwick House in the novel. Instead, she lives next door, a spectator removed from the mysterious goings-on just the other side of her fence. She has seen families come and, shortly thereafter, retreat from the home late in the night, leaving behind their belongings save for the clothes on their backs. These souls never return to claim their property, and the discarded remains become just more eclectic furnishings comingled with everything else the Marwick House has collected over the years. In many ways, those items left behind by previous owners and occupants are like geological strata, each “layer” representing the unique character of those who came and went before as well as creating a timeline recording the house’s dark evolution.
When Anna moves in to the Marwick House, she and the narrator, Jo, become fast friends. It is through Anna that Jo comes to know the secrets kept by the Marwick House. Together, they must confront the ghost whose human form came to a violent end, trapping her inside the home she occupied when alive and now stalks in death in search of the elusive key that will ultimately set her free.
One might classify The House Next Door as juvenile fiction. This is in no way a negative judgment on the quality of Ms. Coates’ writing or her story as a whole. Here, there is nothing that will offend an open-minded reader and much that will entertain and provide a few hours of escape of from a more frightening world beyond.
Toward the end of the novel, Jo reminded me of Austen’s Emma in a way. This is just an off-hand observation, and I doubt it was a parallel the author intended. I simply took it as a serendipitous “tip of the hat” to one of the greats who paved the way for women to have the opportunity to become successful and respected writers in their own right.
I highly recommend you seek out Ms. Coates’ novels. They are perfect for a cold, stormy night spent embraced by the warmth of the fire blazing in the hearth you sit before.
You can learn more about Darcy Coates at http://darcycoates.com/.