Please be aware that this review contains major spoilers. I usually attempt to avoid revealing any plot twists, but it was impossible to properly review this book without doing so.
When I found this book in the discarded rack for 20p, I snapped it up immediately. The creepy title, the blurb and the very idea thrilled me; I am an avid horror fan, in all forms of media, and the old ‘stranded in the middle of nowhere with a ghost’ trope is among my favourite type of spooky tale to indulge in.
A married couple in their early 40s head to a bothy in the Scottish Highlands for a romantic weekend away, to rekindle their marriage and also try something a little different. What they got, however, was something horrible that would change both of their lives forever.
According to the inside of the back cover, Niki Valentine is a pseudonym for the “award winning” author Nicola Monaghan. I have not read any other works by Niki/Nicola, but after what I endured with The Haunted, I am unsure that I will bother checking out her other works.
The Haunted has a lot of problems, and it’s going to be difficult to go through them all without this review sounding as all over the place as the novel does. However, I will try my best.
First of all, I have never personally reviewed an author badly for having a ‘stupid’ character (one of the largest causes of one-star reviews, I’ve noticed). Sometimes, people behave stupidly and do things that defy logical, sensible reason. It’s rather brave and potentially quite clever to inject a character of such ill awareness into your story. However, I don’t think that Susie (the wife of our main couple) is actually stupid. I just think that she’s poorly written.
The book is written in third person, and follows her point of view, which means that we are inside of Susie’s erratic, undecided mind for the entire book.
All the way through I kept getting an inkling that Valentine had a plan for the story, for how we perceived Susie and her husband Martin. However, Valentine’s weak writing style and inability to be consistent for so much as two paragraphs let this book and its entire premise down horribly.
One moment, Susie would be staring at her husband in fear for her life, and the next moment (literally the next sentence, or paragraph) she would be inwardly gushing about what an amazing man he was. Then, within another paragraph or two, she would be back to hating him, or being scared of him. Even when she found a little red notebook he’d been writing in that detailed how he wanted to murder her and bury her body, she still made excuses for him. I should point out that Susie is a Social Worker – and it appears from the book her main specialty is working with battered wives.
Yet even right after her husband pinned her to the ground violently, she said he would never hurt me, before going on to describe a weekend when he’d tried to choke her. Right after, we were back with he would never hurt me, I know it.
Were the book making hints that perhaps Susie was mentally unsettled, or gave some purpose behind her ever changing mindset, I might have taken the bait. As it were, I found that Valentine’s writing was simply lazy; she repeated herself many times, and all through the book Susie had seemingly first-time revelations to things she had mentally soliloquized about several times before.
The entire book was like this right up until the last few pages and it was borderline nauseating to put up with. I can hands-down say that I only finished this book to see what happened. I found myself saying “why is she saying this again!?” out loud, when she decided maybe he’s not so bad for the fifteen hundredth time.
Now let’s discuss the ghost story element. I can honestly cope with mediocre writing, providing that the story itself is good.
In itself, The Haunting has some great ideas. As the book wears on, Martin begins to behave more and more strangely, his mood biting at her patience and Susie herself finds that, due to a presence that reminds her of someone she once knew, she begins having violent thoughts towards her husband. The spirit in question appears to serve no purpose other than to repeatedly have sex with Susie in her sleep.
About three quarters of the way into the book, things picked up and the story began to twist around from the pair idly bickering and Susie’s back-and-forth brain and I had hoped that perhaps the effort of continuing to read would pay off, but it didn’t. It had that feeling of when you walk into a room and someone yells at you for opening the door too loudly.
All you can do is blink at them and think what the hell just happened?