"House of Spines" by Michael J Malone is a chilling tale of one man's battle to remain in the real world whilst all around him is shifting sand. Beautifully crafted and colourfully descriptive, "House of Spines" keeps the reader gripped by an uneasy presence, a chill, literally, down the spine, as you become absorbed into the experience of the main character, Ran McGhie. Reading this book evoked memories in this reader of childhood fear: of the dark and the unexplained, of the heart-pounding fear of someone, or something, lurking in every shadowy corner ready to pounce.
The setting of the book is modern-day Glasgow. Ran McGhie is a struggling writer with a sad past. He lives simply, has few friends and endures a constant battle with poor mental health. Having experienced the early death of both his parents in tragic circumstances, he lives in constant fear that the demons he knows to have possessed his mother have been bestowed on him. Life is a struggle, until one day, completely unexpectedly, he hears life-changing news. His long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow's oldest merchant families and with the death of his great-uncle, he has inherited Newton Hall, the vast family mansion. Unbeknown to Ran, his great-uncle had been watching from afar and planning for the day when he could pass on this legacy to his great-nephew even though, in life, he had felt unable to reach out and connect with him.
As Ran tries to get to grips with his new life, he takes comfort from the books in the vast library his great-uncle has amassed during his lifetime. He feels his uncle's presence in the house and also the presence of other, less benign, souls, who seem to haunt its walls. At first he is fearful of exploring the endless corridors, but as he begins to do so it seems that his grip on reality is loosening. He feels the presence of a young woman, whose reflection he glimpses in the mirror within an ancient lift, and it seems she has the power to enchant and detach him from the real world. Can he hang on to reality or is he destined to fall foul of the curse which seems to have blighted his family over generations?
This is a story that is much more powerful in the reading than could be conveyed in any review written about it. The reader is transported into Ran's life and finds themselves walking in his shoes, experiencing what he is experiencing in the most profoundly realistic way. This is a book that it is hard to put down and that one returns to fearful of what might happen next, but equally driven to find out if Ran can beat his demons or is destined to become one of them, roaming the corridors of Newton Hall like his forebears.