Peter James is one of my favourite writers. His collection of short stories A Twist of the Knife was one of the most gripping collections of short fiction that I’d ever read, especially the stories that were of the horror genre rather than the crime ones. The House On Cold Hill has only recently come to my attention, mostly because I collect his books in paperback so that my shelf remains streamlined. Yes, it’s a little obsessive but I like to make sure I have all of the same editions. This book was obviously something drastically different from the Roy Grace series Peter James is most popularly known for. The blurb read well; a family move into a large dilapidated old house and try to do it only they discover they aren’t the only ones living there. It’s very simple on the surface but as is typical with Peter James he takes something good and makes it much much better. The House on Cold Hill is no exception. SPOILER ALERT!
The opening scene of this book sets the tone for the entire book. A family arrive in the 80s at the doors of Cold Hill House all excited about their new house. The problem is the house as other ideas. This dramatic opening scene sets the bar really high for the rest of the book; its gruesome and tense. All of the characters appear quite likeable so it’s a shame that you don’t get to spend a bit more time with them.
The first set of character’s we meet aren’t the only ones who you get attached too in The House on Cold Hill. The main character, Ollie, is a really likeable character and you do root for him throughout; you want him to solve the ever mounting list of problems arising with the house and you want him to survive the attacks on his house and family by a ghost seemingly hell bent on revenge. Ollie, and his wife Caro, do sometimes come across as a bit clichéd, nothing about them is particularly special or unique to most other stories like this. The in-laws feature heavily in the early stages of this book and they are the ones that get the ball rolling on the ghost idea for Ollie, they way James pulls this off is some really good writing. The daughter, Jade, is well written, I was hoping she would make it to the end.
The plot is simple but well executed, which perhaps an inappropriate word to use given the content of the book, but the whole thing was unfortunately very predictable. It was very obvious about halfway through that Ollie and his family wouldn’t survive and that most of the people he had met along the way were also ghosts as well. It made reading it a bit of a chore but Peter James is a very good writer so it was forgivable. The other problem was there wasn’t actually much done with the ghost itself and when we do get information it is a bit rushed for the sake of more details about the house. Less house and more ghost would have been great. Saying that however, the way that the ghost taunts Ollie and his family is really interesting as it seems to have a grasp of twenty first century technology. It teases Ollie and Caro with messages to their phones and computers of how no matter what they do they won’t be able to survive the ghost’s attacks. I don’t think I’ve seen it before anywhere else and I really liked how it was done.
The House on Cold Hill features a series of illustrations throughout. They are maps of the house and drawings of the tombstones and headstones that feature as part of the plot. In books like that this that feature buildings and details from a very specific historic period keeping up with what something is supposed to look like is very difficult so having the illustrations made the story much easier to read. It also stops any chance of you being bombarded with excessive amounts of description because the pictures to it for you.
The House on Cold Hill is really good if you are after a bit of escapism without too much blood and guts flying about. If you’re after a real scare however I would say this one isn’t for you; its creepy there’s no doubt and to be honesty that’s as much as it needed, any more and it would have lost that flare that James has when it comes to horror writing. The writing and the plot are great and the characters are too! It just needed a bit more ghostliness! I do recommend it if you’re new to the genre.