As a lover of mysteries with a psychological twist, always looking to read more about suspected witches, I knew I just had to check out Ann Rawson’s The Witch House! Today is my stop on The Witch House blog tour as organised by Red Dog Press, a small indie publisher of all things mysterious, thrilling and crime scene hijinks from unique voices, so if the synopsis intrigues you please do check out the other lovely bloggers posting their reviews.
Alice Hunter, grieving and troubled after a breakdown, stumbles on the body of her friend and trustee, Harry Rook. The police determine he has been ritually murdered, and suspicion falls on the vulnerable Alice, who inherited the place known locally as The Witch House from her grandmother, late High Priestess of the local coven.
When the investigations turn up more evidence, and it all seems to point to Alice, even she begins to doubt herself.
As we join Alice following her departure from the mental facility, and she does literally stumble into discovering the dead body, this title begins with a relatively sedated form of central mystery. However, the intrigue predominantly comes from the interweaving of all aspects of Alice’s life, both past and present. Between a stalker, trustees controlling her inheritance, visits to a care worker, her mother’s complex attitude towards her parental duties, handling her deceased grandmother’s wishes and grudge with the Rook family, starting a new academic archaeology course and, oh, of course, the central murder investigation the narrative heats up quickly. I didn’t realise just how many narrative threads were competing for my attention until listing them out there, because their interweaving occurs so naturally and at no point feels overwhelming or clunky. There are many interconnects to be found balanced across hints and appearing from obscurity. Rawson also ensures to choose which connections appear unexpectedly as they cause a similar shock across both reader and character which is always a good sign.
I read this book in larger chunks than I usually do, dedicating mornings and afternoons to reading, however, this certainly did not compromise the reading experience. The method of murder is intriguing and Alice’s mentality and relationships, both pre-established and refreshingly new, ensured that all plot episodes flow together nicely. At no point did I feel the narrative pacing slipping towards too slow to hold my interest, despite personally feeling that the stakes of Alice’s investigations were lower than expected. I will clarify that there certainly are stakes that could severely impede Alice’s freedoms and even her life, however, due to Alice’s physical placement throughout the narrative, and decisions made for the conclusion, I felt that these dangers were very distant and that she was not in any immediate danger. This did not impede my general enjoyment of The Witch House, however, I would feel I have to clarify that this is a psychological thriller more so in heavily discussing the topics of paranoia and mental stability within an investigation rather than presenting them as explicitly within the writing as other titles do.
Rawson’s writing is a highlight of this reading experience. It is simultaneously gripping and calming within the circumstances of the narrative. The choice of Alice’s perspective was entirely correct, and I found her a relatable protagonist alongside the intriguing role memory plays. I also appreciated Rawson’s inclusion of academics and Alice finding a path after a significant disruption to her life. Despite vital gaps in her knowledge, Alice has a mind of her own crafted and delivered intricately by Rawson to great effect.
I must admit, however, that I was hoping for some more traditionally spooky or creepy vibes from both the writing and narrative. Especially as Alice spends her time across two properties, each with disturbingly intriguing histories, I would have liked to see her Grandmother’s status as a “witch” and leader explored in greater detail beyond the hints and expositional passages provided by other characters. I also would have liked to have seen far more of Daniel. I feel his character’s status deserved far more page time both before and after certain details were dropped.
Overall, I’ve decided to give The Witch House four stars because reading the clear writing, intriguing mystery expertly grounded in reality whilst still offering a certain level of escapism and fancy was so enjoyable. I would strongly recommend this to anyone in search for a slightly lighter mystery which still holds multiple components to sink your teeth into.
Have you got any witchy thriller recommendations? Be sure to drop them in the comments.
The Witch House was published in the UK by Red Dog Press on the 4th of August 2020.
I asked to be part of this blog tour following an open call on Twitter (@RedDogTweets). My request was accepted, and I was provided with a free e-book copy of The Witch House by Red Dog Press in exchange for this honest review. Thank you to Red Dog Press for this opportunity.
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