The Hunting Ground by Cliff McNish is a classic story of good vs. evil. Suitably creepy for adults, it's actually a YA novel that comes with a warning that it is not for younger readers. I can see why since it's not only dark but verges on the disturbing as well. It reminded me at times of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, where the setting takes on such a life of its own it becomes a character in its own right. Another haunted house, and another unsuspecting group of individuals getting much more than they bargained for when they come under the sway of the evil influence lurking inside its walls. There's not just a powerful force to be reckoned with but ghosts as well, lost souls who need to be set to rest. All dished up quite cleverly by Cliff McNish who I see has other ghost stories to his name.
Glebe House is the setting, but when sixteen-year-old Elliott, his younger brother Ben and his father move in they have no idea that the house is anything more than a vacant property that needs to be renovated before it's sold off. Elliott's father makes his living by fixing up old houses for their owners, moving from place to place with his sons in tow. It's just another job in another town, though Glebe House is more unnerving than most. Standing for several centuries, it's massive in size with five storeys and a grand staircase that is the focal point of the house. It's strange, though, too. Set in a gloomy prospect amongst towering trees on many, many acres of land, it's all weird angles and long corridors, and there is an East Wing that has been boarded over.
Although he won't admit to it, Ben has already been investigating that side of the house, and has a nasty bruise to show for it to the disappointment of his father who had warned both boys off already.
"It's a bespoke job. A truly nasty bit of construction. Now that it's been conveniently opened up--Dad didn't avoid looking at Ben--I've had a chance to check around in there. It's a labyrinth. Deliberately underlit and confusing throughout. Literally hundreds of criss-crossing corridors that all lead back on themselves."
"From outside the East Wing looks innocent enough. Inside's another story. It's full of nearly identical rooms. One half is all bedrooms, the other half all bathrooms. And the longer corridors look as if they run in a straight line, but don't. They bring you in a circle, only so gradually that you can't tell. I used a compass to navigate, and I still nearly got lost inside there."
The odd East Wing wasn't part of the original construction but was added on by its seventeenth century owner who seems to have had a strange predilection for hanging portraits of himself throughout the house especially in the later-built wing. The closed wing is already a temptation, but then the boys begin reading a diary found in the library which was kept by a former occupant of the house some fifty years earlier. Elliott and Ben keep finding pages to Theo's diary, a boy of about their age, almost as though someone is feeding them bits of it in instalments. The diary reveals the tragedy that happened to Theo's family, but by the time the boys get to the last pages will it be too late to save their own?
The story is told in a very traditional YA manner--only one parent and too busy to be of any real help. It'll be up to Elliott to try and save Ben from the grasp of Evil that lurks in the East Wing and the ghost girl who makes contact with them. I'm being purposely vague about details as this is a story that is best revealed as you read and I don't like to ruin anyon's "pleasure". Elliott tells the story in first person, and it's an engaging voice. He's uncertain and afraid and will need to find courage to do battle. Help will come from an unlikely corner, and the reader is often uncertain just who is good and who is bad in the story, but one thing is certain--the man in the paintings was depraved and amoral, which creates a horror all its own besides (and probably more so) than the many ghosts that make their presence felt.
I'm still working away on Peter Straub's Ghost Story, but think for my last read I need something a little bit different. I'm contemplating picking up John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids or Stephen King's The Gunslinger (first book in his Dark Tower series). I've still got a full month to go, but I seem to be blowing through my RIP reads!