By Cliff McNish
Published by Orion
ISBN 978 1 84255 993 2
If your first ride is the Ghost Train or the Haunted House when you spend a day out at the theme park, then The Hunting Ground is the novel for you. Trusty novelist Cliff McNish's latest young adult novel is a scary, no-spooks-barred ride into very creepy territory. This is a serious, atmospheric, chilling tale guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of the neck of even the most sceptical reader.
Teen brothers Elliott and Ben are used to living in old houses and mansions. Their father is a professional property renovator, and his commissions to do up crumbling houses take him all over Britain. The boys have to travel where Dad's current project takes him. They are used to temporary homes and all that the homes bring to their nomadic lives.
Elliott sometimes wishes the three of them could settle down in a permanent home, but he does admit there is always a sense of adventure when they move into the next ancient mansion because there are always spooky rooms and overgrown grounds to explore. But neither Elliott nor Ben is prepared for what happens when they move into Glebe House.
At first, it all seems more of the same when the boys and their father move into Dad's latest commission. Glebe House is ancient, neglected and the owners want it restored to its former glory. There are the usual cobweb-strewn rooms and dark corridors where no light ever seems to penetrate. None of this fazes the boys. They have seen it all before.
So why does Elliott feel ill at ease the moment they move into the mansion? Why does he wake in the middle of the night, feeling scared? The boys have been banned from going into the dangerous part of the house, the East Wing, but Elliott soon suspects his younger brother is disobeying their father's orders.
Ben does not usually lie to Elliott, but there is something strange going on with Ben and the forbidden East Wing. And who is the mysterious old woman who wanders around the grounds with dead flowers pinned to her dress? Glebe House is not like the other mansions the boys have known. There is a presence here that is trying to make a connection. The boys talk to their dad about their fears, and he decides to get his sons away from Glebe House. But it is too late. They are trapped.
The Hunting Ground is a throat-grabbing slice of haunted house horror, and it is not for younger readers. McNish throws lots of classic adult horror story elements into his novel, and stirs them together with great aplomb. The creepy mansion is a character in itself. We have people isolated from the real world, long-lost diaries, abandoned children, spooky portraits and an evil spirit at the centre of it all that needs victims.
The Hunting Ground follows all the directions laid down by writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce, but McNish makes them all his own. This is a beautifully written and truly disturbing ghost story. Enjoy and shiver.