I love haunted house stories where the house is a central character. The Overlook Hotel, Hill House…those are places where malevelonce seems to rise not only from the characters that inhabit(ed) them, or from the actions that took place within their walls, but from the very brick and mortar itself. Mia Grant opens her short novel In the Shadow of Spindrift House with a spooky welcoming chapter that paints her own seaside creation in much the same light.
Above it all, enshrined on a hillside so tall that the sea, hungry as it has become, will need to nibble and nibble for another hundred years before it rises far enough to tear it down, stands Spindrift House. The house is still straight and tall and proud, an architectural oddity rendered regal by the slow dissolve of all that lies below it. It looms, like some great beast of prey waiting for the perfect moment to strike and take that which was always meant to be its due. It lurks, a shadow in the reeds, a silent scream in the night.
Grant switches gears a bit after her moody opening chapter, adopting a breezier style to introduce us to a gang of teenage mystery solvers: Harlowe, her stepbrother Kevin, and their friends, twins Andy and Addison. If you’re thinking Scooby-Doo and his pals running around in a big van, you’re not far from the truth. Grant hints at a past full of adventures, some perhaps supernatural, some definitely not, that garnered a certain amount of fame for these kids. Problem is, they’re on the verge of adulthood, and their antics aren’t considered cute anymore. The looming pressures of growing up and getting real jobs are creating tiny fissures in the group, so when a chance at a big payday comes along, they jump at it—albeit, some more enthusiastically than others.
For Harlowe, the job is personal. Harlowe came to be Kevin’s stepsister through tragic consequences—consequences which may, in fact, be tied directly to their destination: the notorious Spindrift House, a haunted dwelling which has seen its share of bloodshed. The mission is a chance for her to uncover some truths about her blood relatives. It’s also a chance for her to keep this family she’s built around her together, for just a little while longer. Instead, even before they get there, Spindrift House digs in and gets to work tearing the foursome apart.
To get further into the plot means getting into spoilers; as usual, I prefer to let the author tell the tale. What Grant has put together here is fairly straightforward. While the turns the story takes are unlikely to shock seasoned horror readers, the book is executed in entertaining fashion, making for a fun if familiar read.
Grant does a great job building up the menace of Spindrift House well before the quartet arrives; once there, she continues to strengthen the characters and relationships, making sure you, the reader, have plenty of emotion invested in the inevitable outcome. There’s real tension in the story, and some downright spooky moments that pay off in big ways.
In the Shadow of Spindrift House is a heaping helping of horror comfort food, familiar but utterly satisfying.