A Review of The Haunted – Niki Valentine
by Jennifer Medwyn
With Halloween approaching many of us will enjoy nothing more than snuggling up with a spooky book. For me it’s nice to read a paranormal thriller to keep up with the work of my peers and to indulge in a story that I don’t know the ending to for once! This week I read The Haunted by Niki Valentine; a dark tale set in the Scottish Highlands that appears to market itself as a supernatural, horror story. However many readers will probably agree that it is more of a psychological thriller and one that is a little too slow paced to evoke any real spine tingling fear. Here are my thoughts:
The story is centred around a middle-aged married couple – Martin and Sue. In an attempt to rekindle their troubled marriage they take a second honeymoon to the Scottish Highlands and go hiking into the wilderness with the romantic notion of staying in an abandoned bothy which Martin visited as a child. However the weather soon takes a turn for the worst and the couple find themselves stranded in the shack with no means of escape. This is when a supernatural presence appears to join them, manipulating them and stealing their belongings, causing them to turn on each other. Things get more complicated when Sue begins to convince herself that this presence is the ghost of an old, dead boyfriend, particularly when it starts wanting to get up close and personal with her. Alone, starving and delusional the couple’s initial bickering soon takes a sinister turn and as their thoughts turn murderous, the truth about their past and the truth about what is happening in the bothy right now emerges with life changing consequences for both Martin and Sue.
This book is sparse when it comes to characters. In fact with the exception of the supernatural presence in the book (which I’m not sure you can class as a character) we only ever meet Martin and Sue. Unfortunately neither of them are at all likeable. The story is told in a third person narrative but we only hear Sue’s point of view. As our protagonist we should be rooting for her or at least feel able to engage and empathize with her, but unfortunately Sue’s personality leaves a lot to be desired. Despite Valentine trying to portray her as an open minded, spiritual type of person who is open to the idea of different realms and life forms, she does come across as rather dull, indecisive and completely downtrodden by her husband. Martin is a wholly unpleasant character and it becomes clear very early in the book that he is a bully who enjoys manipulating Sue and playing mind games with her. He is arrogant and narrow minded and it would have been nice to see Sue standing up to him a little more in the earlier stages of the novel – particularly when she recounts a row from their past and the shocking truth of what he said about her desire to have children is revealed. Of course all books are supposed to have villains but in a story that is so character driven it can be hard to persevere when you an active dislike for one of the main characters and not a great deal of positive feeling towards the other.
The writing style
One of the great things about limiting your setting and characters so much in a novel like this is that you do truly bring about a sense of isolation. Despite the flaws in the novel, Valentine has certainly crafted her writing well so that the reader can fully appreciate just how cut off from the world they couple are, and of course the growing isolation Sue experiences as her distrust of her husband grows. However the danger with this sort of writing is that the reader can become bored. Sadly this book was too slow paced for a thriller and there were times when it seemed Valentine was repeating herself, going into irrelevant sub-plots and spending way too much time describing menial tasks such as foraging for berries and making tea. This may have created suspense but it didn’t keep me enthralled and the book could probably have been cut down by about a quarter in my opinion. Having said that the ending was suitably frightening with a good twist although (ironically) quite rushed in comparison with the rest of the book.
Overall an OK read but far too slow paced and featured characters I didn’t care about which made me disengaged from the whole story unfortunately.
**So, has anyone else read this? What are your thoughts?**