Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg (unabridged audio book read by Michael Taylor)

The year is 1926, and Ethan Gravesend has just inherited Harrow House -- the Watch Point, New York, home of his grandfather Justin Gravesend (who tells the story of his own early years in The Necromancer). Called Nightmare House by the local newspapers because of the events that have taken place under its roof, it is also said that every stone, every piece of glass, of this English-style manor castle was chosen specifically by Justin with full knowledge of its history and possible black-magical effects.

"Harrow, you belong to me," Ethan proclaims upon his arrival. "But I was to learn," the elder Ethan notes in the telling of this story from the present day, "that this house belonged to no man." However, Ethan feels as if he has come home at last. He used to visit Harrow in his youth, but his parents kept him away except for those rare visits, though he would dream of it at night.

Newly single, Ethan is prepared to settle in to his newly acquired wealth and status — until the dead woman is discovered in the secret walled-off room. Accompanied by chief of police Pocket and local boy Alf, other frightening events are to come (during what the elder Ethan calls a "night of mystery") that will cause him to wonder what exactly his grandfather has let loose in Harrow. But these events will pale in comparison to the new information he discovers about his family.

Author Douglas Clegg has said that Nightmare House is his version of the "quiet ghost story" — in fact, each Harrow novel reflects a favored literary style of his. Clegg leaps around from first-person to third-person, past to present, with confidence, and he never misses a step. Reader Michael Taylor (from Books in Motion, the audio publisher who produced this edition) follows along gamely. Taylor's friendly baritone eases the listener into the strange happenings like a kindly uncle telling a spooky story before the fire.

He also shows a surprising facility with voices that I would have thought out of his range. I especially enjoyed Taylor's characterization of Pocket; Clegg gives Pocket a lot of space to maneuver as a supporting character, even allowing him to tell his own side of the story, and Taylor gives him a dose of extra personality.

My first Harrow novel was 2005's The Abandoned, which I did not enjoy for various reasons, but one of those may have been my lack of knowledge regarding the house and its background. (Clegg says you can read the series in any order, but that one may be the exception.) Nightmare House filled me in wonderfully, and I may have to give the other another try.

This first novel of Harrow House and its surrounding history and happenings was wholly satisfying, and it has made me look forward to reading the other entries in the series. In fact, as soon as I finished listening to it, I picked up The Necromancer and read it in two sittings. These have reaffirmed my confidence both in Clegg and in Harrow, and now I am eager to acquire copies of the other Harrow stories. And if they are also released on audio of this quality, that will be even better.


Ben Boulden said...

I have enjoyed Clegg's Harrow House novels for several years. The first title I read was THE INFINITE, and I absolutely loved it.

I also enjoyed NIGHTMARE HOUSE. Thanks for the great review. I need to dig some of these titles out and re-read them.

KentAllard said...

I just picked this up to listen to on an upcoming trip. Good to know it's a good adaptation.

Chris said...

I've got a Clegg on my reading list: You Come When I Call You. Have you read that one?

Nice review! Good to know this one's on audio.

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