The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates is a Gothic horror novel about a woman named Adrienne who inherits a creepy old house from her late great aunt, which couldn’t have occurred at a more opportune moment as Adrienne was about to find herself homeless! After moving in with her floofy kitty, Wolfgang, Adrienne starts to realise that the house has quite the morbid history in the small town of Ipsen, making Adrienne a shiny new source of gossip and speculation. Chocking it up to bubbling blarney, she doesn’t pay it any heed. That is until the forest at the edge of the property goes dead silent with the arrival of night. Or when a giant flock of birds flee the trees like their tails are on fire. When the scratches against the windows and the eyes of the paintings on the wall start to follow Adrienne as she walks through the house, does she finally question the sincerity of the tales surrounding her newly inherited manor.
Darcy Coates is an author who I have seen sporadically on the shelves at horror sections in practically ever bookshop that I have gone to. One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I snagged a couple of her works. The Haunting of Ashburn House was a fabulous treat for me, especially because I am a huge fan of creepy houses and even creepier backstories to said houses, which this thing has in spades. Between the effortless slow-burn progression of the story and revelation of secrets, Adrienne’s questioning of her sanity, and her strong desire to protect her kitty Sir at all costs, I simply couldn’t put the damn thing down. Additionally, when I arrived at the section I had been gritting my teeth for, I had to turn every light on in my bedroom just to fall asleep that night. I love it when media—books, comics, films—can scare or freak the hell out of me in such a fashion.
My favourite aspect of the novel was Ms Coates’ writing. It encapsulates an almost old-timey storytelling vibe that is equal parts charming, captivating, yet kooky. The way she builds atmosphere with little everyday behaviours and descriptors offers a subtle embrace into the story that shall pull you in for hours, and it’s a marvellous escapism experience. I also love that I never felt it rushing to get to one point or another, and even though it was more paced than other Gothic horror titles I’ve read, it felt just right. Like it knew precisely when to drop the scares and the surprises to both pique interest while send discomforting chills up and down the spine. It’s almost like you’re reading an account that was sent to you in an e-mail by a dear, old friend.
Based on the cover and the title, the reader goes into the novel expecting there to be an air of spooky shite, and the building of that anticipation, brick-by-brick, one uncomfortable shadow at a time, was brilliant. It’s such a psychological thing to anticipate the worst. We can get so caught up in expecting something terrible to happen that the anticipation itself can blur or bludgeon our preparedness, and that is what happened to me when the twists started dropping. I had reached a point where I felt I could relax because if certain things hadn’t transpired yet, then they probably wouldn’t for a while. Yeah, I was wrong and it was awesome.
I love the overall story and plot. It was something that I tried very hard to figure out and while I was able to finagle out a couple of portions of what was going on, I was in no way prepared for the truth of it all. I also love bittersweet finales in horror tales. I don’t like super happy or super depressing, tragic endings, but one that treads the line of both mostly due to the inherent experience of undergoing such an event or occurrence. It has always felt more natural to me for the genre, and that was another characteristic that Coates’ nailed quite well.
Suffice to say, I thoroughly liked The Haunting of Ashburn House. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to fans of Crimson Peak as well as Riley Sager’s Home Before Dark, as it’s an interesting amalgamation of the two (granted this came before Sager’s novel). I would also recommend this to folx that have been interested in trying Gothic horror as it doesn’t get too terribly into the grotesque and grisly aspects of the genre (at least this book didn’t, I can’t speak for the author’s other works… yet!).
Publication Date: July 2016 (reprint March 2020)
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (978-1728220130)
Genre: Gothic horror, Supernatural Mystery
Page Count: 336
Content Warnings: Dark, disturbing thematic elements. Discussions of familicide. Brief scene of animal injury. Blood and slightly gory imagery. Mild cursing. Consumption of food. Brief depiction of starvation via short-term poverty.
Availability: In-print; eBook, Audiobook, and paperback editions available.