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As I mentioned in a previous review, I live in an old house. It’s a nice place, well-lit, well-maintained, and altogether pleasant. But like all old homes (and many new ones), it still makes plenty of creepy sounds and took some getting used to when we first bought the place. When the air conditioning comes on at night while I’m trying to fall asleep it creates enough of a pressure change outside my bedroom door that it sounds remarkably like someone is surreptitiously trying to open the doorknob. That takes some getting used to. But a lot of homes, especially older ones, are like that. They each have a history all their own, and one largely unknown to their current owners. I’ve lived in plenty of places with long histories over the years, enjoy solitude, and have always had what we might describe as an over-active imagination. This means that I’ve also managed to spook myself on a fair number of occasions over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a ghost – well, there was one time when I saw something inexplicable in the house as a child, but I still have no idea or explanation for what I witnessed then – but let’s just say that I’m keeping an open mind on the subject. Consequently, haunted house stories are always a favorite of mine. There’s just something about the idea of a “normal” family, like yours or mine, going into a house where weird, unexplained things start occurring. There’s a fine line, after all, between the “unexplained” and the malign. The unexplained can be downright terrifying.

THE HAUNTED is the story of what happens to one young married couple expecting their first baby who move into an old house that has a long history – one involving lots of apparently tragic events that come back to haunt the house’s newest occupants. This sort of story has a long literary pedigree, of course, and it’s also been done very successfully on the big screen in the classic THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and POLTERGEIST films, as well as the current PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, among many others. THE HAUNTED serves as a nice addition to this sub-genre.

Some plot spoilers ahead, so be forewarned.

THE HAUNTED explores what happens when a young married couple buys the haunted house just outside town that none of the locals would ever be caught dead in (lest they be found dead in it). Things begin innocently enough: strange noises, movement dimly sensed out of the corner of the eye, things being moved or gone missing, and then the inexplicable events begin to escalate. Quickly. By the third night in the new house, the couple have both witnessed terrifying apparitions and seen physical effects of the ghosts/demons/whatever is in the house. But it doesn’t seem to be a simple, straightforward haunted house. Yes, clearly, there’s something in the house that doesn’t want them there and does everything it can to get them to leave. But there also seems to be something in or outside the house that doesn’t want them to leave: when they flee the home in terror, it chases them back inside and more or less traps them there. So what’s going on? Well, I’m not going to tell you. You’re going to have to trust me on this – you don’t want me to reveal the “twist,” especially as it reminds me of the kind of twist that filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan might include in his movies (and yes, I did have to look up the proper spelling of his name).

I made the mistake (or maybe it was fortuitous) of reading this one on my Kindle in bed, a few chapters every night. While alone at home. Listening to the creaking sounds of my sixty-year-old home settling and making scary noises whenever the air conditioning came on. That ratcheted up the novels’ tension a good bit, let me tell you. But even if you read this one in the light of day surrounded by loved ones, I think the novel’s tense atmosphere will still get to you.

I recommend THE HAUNTED as a fun but frightening haunted house novel. If I had any complaints, it’s that I might have wished the overt supernatural events had unfurled just a little more slowly and subtly. The novel went from innocuous and ambiguous happenings on the afternoon of the first day in the house to full-on spectral/demonic assault by the wee hours of the third day. Playing this out over a longer period of time with a slow escalation of weirdness might have strengthened the tale just a bit, but the twist/reveal about what’s going on here – and it’s much more than meets the eye – makes up for the rapid, nightmarish pace.

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Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers