The Crooked House
Author: Christobel Kent
Creepy, incestuous atmosphere spun to perfection, skewed characters that run true, a crooked house that seals the deal, and a bent horizon thrust Kent’s characters into a plot so thick and gooey that this novel stalks each reader with a brilliance that terrifies. Brutal, somewhat gothic, narrowly noir, and with tendrils of Du Maurier and Bronte, The Crooked House, deserted on a bleak muddy estuary peripheral to the main village, allows secrets to inhale its characters, especially the protagonist, Esme Grace.
Esme Grace is orphaned at 13. In one night, in the small insular and isolated village of Saltleigh, her father, mother, twin eight year old sisters, and older brother Joe are murdered while Esme hides in her attic bedroom, terrified to move. She hears things. When Detective Sergeant Sarah Rutherford comes, she finds Esme holding her father, barely alive, who is holding a gun with half his head shot off, and the children, Joe and her mother all dead by the same shotgun. Rutherford tells Esme that her father has shot the family and then tried to kill himself. Her father, barely alive, is taken away by ambulance.
But somewhere, hidden, Esme knows there is a larger truth inside her mind – but she cannot find it. The police even suspect Esme, but finally allow Esme’s Aunt Polly, her mother’s sister, to take her to live far away in Cornwall where Esme changes her name to Alison. After four years, when she is 18, Esme leaves Aunt Polly. She is still fragile, still shaken. Her father, who survived the shooting, is hooked up on machines as part of his brain was damaged. He cannot talk nor move. Alison despises him, and will not go to visit him in the nursing home.
Alison moves on, gets a job in London as an accountant and keeps her head down, although she is very attractive. She meets Paul, a strange, handsome eccentric man at a friend’s party, and they start dating. Paul is as insular as Alison: his parents died in a suicide pact. He is debonair and gentle except occasionally when they have sex, when he can turn brutal. They walk around each other warily, treating love like a tennis ball in a tennis court, and then Paul is asked to be best man at a wedding. In Saltleigh. Alison has vowed never to return, but she knows that Paul will leave her if she says no. And then Paul decides they will stay a week on a small holiday – in Saltleigh and then attend the wedding. Alison is terrified that someone will recognize her, but she shears off her hair and says yes.
As Kent maneuvers his characters and readers through the twisted streets of Saltleigh, the townspeople show themselves on the side of evil or good, reminiscent of Tom Tryon’s Harvest Home. But Alison ponders which is which, as she realizes the town knows truths about her family’s murder that she does not.
Superbly written, with stellar atmosphere, The Crooked House takes you in, tastes you, and then spits you out as it reaches for another to bite into. Saltleigh itself becomes one of the darkest ghosts that stalk in and out of Alison’s return to seek the truth about her murdered family and their death; and her father’s innocence. Brilliant.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
We received a product to facilitate our review. All opinions are our own
- You can pick up this book on Amazon.com here: The Crooked House: A Novelor at a bookseller near you.