Alex Bell – The Haunting

alexbell-thehauntingSome curses grow stronger with time…

People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.

Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…

A chilling new title in the Red Eye horror series from the author of Frozen Charlotte.

Last year Stripes Publishing launched a new series called Red Eye. The books published in this series were all YA horror novels and while I loved some of them more than others, overall the series had a successful launch year in my opinion. One of my favourites in the series last year was Alex Bell’s Frozen Charlotte, so I was quite excited to get stuck into her latest offering, The Haunting. Set in Cornwall and featuring a purportedly haunted inn, Bell captured my attention with the setting alone, but it was further piqued by the fact that one of its main characters is in a wheelchair, as I’ve been wanting to read more books featuring disabled characters as part of my more diverse reading diet. 

So let’s start with that. One of the book’s three narrators is Emma, who has found herself in a wheelchair after an accident shattered her spine. Note that it only took out her literal spine, because Emma is super resilient and independent; the accident may have slowed her down somewhat, but it hasn’t broken her spirit. I also liked that Emma isn’t all sunshine and light. She has an edge to her, one that can cut other people if she’s feeling cornered or angry. One of the things that let’s Emma be quite independent is the fact that she has a service dog called Bailey. The bond between Emma and Bailey was wonderful and very well-developed. Bailey has his own personality, which shows in his behaviours and Bell uses him to great effect. His presence also accentuates how dependent Emma is on third-party help in many ways, because she really needs him to get things done. Bell also showed how deliberate Emma has to plan simple things such as just getting in and out of bed or getting dressed, things I usually don’t think twice about. This makes it all the more impactful when Emma decides to act without a well-structured plan; essentially going in on a wing and a prayer.

The other main characters are siblings Jem and Shell, who are Emma’s childhood friends. While Jem’s arc is quite interesting and I felt for him and his overwhelming feeling of guilt and responsibility, especially towards his sister, it was Shell’s story that fascinated me most and which in my opinion forms the core of the mystery behind The Haunting. She is most clearly connected to the Waterwitch who is reported to haunt Emma’s grandmother’s inn. What makes Shell’s point of view even more interesting is that she is very much an unreliable narrator, something that is reinforced by Jem’s point of view and the way he thinks about his little sister. This makes Shell’s story one you have to read carefully to decide where what is happening fits in reality and that’s a challenge I enjoy.

While the titular haunting seems to be that of the Waterwitch, the haunting in this book isn’t just supernatural. The characters are also haunted by trauma: Emma’s accident is haunting not just Emma, but Jem and Shell as well. They both feel responsible for the accident and as such carry around guilt. Shell and Jem are also haunted by their mum’s suicide and their dad’s (continuing) abuse. It feels as if there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ on their minds and a number of “if only’s” that will never be resolved. While I enjoyed the supernatural elements, to be honest it was this more psychological aspect of the story that I found most gripping and I loved the subtlety with which Bell wove it into the narrative.

The Haunting’s central question is whether the creepy stuff at the Waterwitch is due to mental health issues and trauma or whether it is real. I kept answering this question differently, but in the end Bell resolves it with an interesting answer that left me wondering about what would happen next. I really enjoyed The Haunting. Alex Bell writes horror and mystery with a deft voice and steady hand, letting the reader get carried along the story and delivering some definite chills. With The Haunting being her second Red Eye title she’s definitely established herself as one of my favourites in the series and I hope we can look forward to more Red Eye titles from her pen.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.