Atmospheric mystery with elements of a thriller

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

Recovering from a breakdown, Jay and her husband Simon move to the desolate edges of the north of England. They fall in love with Two Houses, a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely. But on uprooting their city life and moving to the sheltered grey village of Hestle, Jay and Simon discover it’s not only Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past. It becomes increasingly clear that the villagers don’t want them there at all.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I picked up this book; was it a ghost story? A domestic drama? After finishing it, I’m still not sure which genre it fits in best. But it’s an enjoyable novel nonetheless and one I would recommend to those who like atmospheric mysteries.

I loved the premise of this book, with a house in the middle of desolate countryside, whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that the previous owner had to have them demolished. It’s particularly gothic in its depiction of an isolated house near a quiet village where the residents mumble to themselves and utter mysterious warnings about the house up on the hill.

The atmosphere is also great, and Cooper’s writing is at its best when she is describing the desolate countryside and grey, rain-lashed village. As the pace increases and the novel hurtles towards its end, a storm bullies its way across the sky and threatens to flood the villagers out of their homes, and you’ll find yourselves gripping the book as you race towards the thrilling finale.

Where Cooper falls down is with her protagonists. I didn’t really connect with any of them, particularly Jay. I found her selfish and irritating and her husband, Simon, wasn’t much better in the likeability stakes. I’m not against unlikeable protagonists but I felt like I was supposed to root for Jay, but wasn’t given enough reasons to do so.

However, Cooper makes up for this with her secondary characters, a cast that is memorable and three-dimensional and whose conflicts added interesting layers to the story. I particularly enjoyed Dev, a young man who works at the local library and who is ostracised from the other villagers because of the colour of his skin.

The mystery at the heart of the novel is what keeps you reading and thankfully it has a solution that is both interesting and satisfying. Cooper ramps up the pace and tension so the ending rushes towards you with the pace of a thriller – before everything is resolved the way it should be: over a nice cup of tea.

The Two Houses by Fran Cooper is released on March 22.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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