The House of Last Resort by Christopher Golden
St. Martin’s Press (January 30, 2023)
304 pages; $24.65 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Christopher Golden knows better than many writers how to turn a setting into a brutal, living, breathing character. His new, terrifying novel might be the perfect encapsulation of that statement. When a reader takes into consideration the body of work that includes Ararat (possible resting place of Noah’s Ark), Road of Bones (forbidden frozen land in Russia), and Strangeland (what might be the most inventive setting in horror fantasy in ages), the praise for this story is not taken lightly.
Beccina, Sicily, is a gorgeous setting that Golden uses to a fine advantage. It’s an old city, but one that desperately needs some life, so much so that the government offers foreigners the opportunity to live in this historic place for a single euro, as long as the residents stay for five years. If that sounds far-fetched, similar offers have been dangled in the United States a few times in lesser populated states with even sweeter deals.
Tommy Puglisi is the guy who accepts the offer, mostly because he has family roots there. His father abandoned the town long ago, which caused a rift in the bloodline. Tommy and his wife Kate move in, with scant Italian language skills to help them acclimate. Yet his grandparents welcome him with…caution. The family reconnection gives the story a strong base as readers are treated to a pair of likable characters as the couple explores the town, and house. Golden allows the novel to build slowly (not a bad thing) as the atmosphere of the crumbling town fills the pages. Their life has some reason for optimism and the couple meets some other new residents, which gives them a bit of grounding.
But why are the townsfolk whispering about Tommy and Kate? Why is his grandmother so unhappy that he bought that house? What’s the story behind his grandfather and his stroke? They explore beyond the finished rooms in their new home to find several hidden places in the annex.
That’s when they discover their cheap purchase was called “The House of Last Resort” by the church.
Things could very easily turn into standard, basic horror fare in lesser hands, but this author never takes the easy way out. Of course, there is something very…off…about the house here, and the connection to the church is an important one.
After the slow burn, the plot hits the gas in the second half. What Tommy and Kate find deep within their house explains the title in fine, thrilling fashion.
Golden has concocted another entertaining horror novel that is both claustrophobic and character-friendly. Not a soul is a throwaway, making the emotional investment high.
As usual, this is recommended reading from a talented storyteller.