The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
Genre: Horror / Young Adult
Publisher: Orion, 2015
Synopsis: Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High School burned down. The blaze killed three and injured twenty, and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. For two decades, little was revealed about what became known as the Johnson Incident.
A diary has been found in the ruins of the school. In this diary, Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s twin, tells of the strange and disturbing sequence of events leading to the incident.
But Kaitlyn doesn’t exist. She never has.
I really wanted to like this novel for two reasons:
- I was lucky enough to meet Dawn Kurtagich and get this book signed.
- I’m trying to give YA Horror a go, instead of just sticking to clearly adult Horror.
But however hard I tried, I just couldn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to.
I’ve seen mixed reviews for it. Some people have loved it, others just couldn’t get to grips with it, like me. It’s a novel with a promising premise, a truly unique one, and that definitely drew me in at the beginning. Carly and Kaitlyn are what some in the novel call “two souls in one body”. Carly manifests in the day, Kaitlyn at night. The sceptics, however, say that Carly is the real person and Kaitlyn a product of Dissociative Identity Disorder, an “alter” personality created by a traumatic event. It starts strong, dropping little hints about Carly and Kaitlyn’s life, creating unsettling details. But, for me, the first time I knew that this book had perhaps gone slightly astray was when a scene tried to shock me quite early on. I felt there hadn’t been enough build-up to warrant this sudden reveal of something scary and, as such, it didn’t freak me out.
I’ve read a fair few horror novels in my time that have genuinely terrified me, making my heart race as I read them, and keeping me up at night. However, The Dead House never managed this. And that’s what we read horror for, right? To feel scared. If you’re not scared, then the book isn’t doing its job. I think this book could perhaps be scary for some, as some reviewers have said, but it wasn’t scary enough for me. Is this because it’s Young Adult? Are the publishers trying to tone it down a bit? I’m not sure. After all, I’ve heard that Kurtagich’s second novel The Creeper Man is much scarier than The Dead House, and this novel did contain a fair amount of gore. It was the suspense and terror that was lacking.
So, why wasn’t I scared? Why couldn’t I get into this novel? Well, like I said, there was a “shock” scene too early on that killed the suspense trying to be created. But overall I think it was because the plot was quite muddied. There were a lot of different events that didn’t seem to correlate with one another. I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to give anything away, but all these interweaving sub-plots never satisfyingly tied together. From the beginning of the novel, we aren’t sure if this is a psychological horror or a paranormal horror. That ambiguity is there for a reason, yet neither side really explains its case coherently.
Honestly, I’m having trouble putting this into words because I’m still a bit confused about the entire plot. There was the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder and both Carly and Kaitlyn’s denial of that, there was a strange ghostly girl, there were random murders, there was a fictional Scottish magical mysticism known as “Mala”. Even though this all did intertwine, it just never felt right. Nothing quite clicked into place; there was no “aha!” moment. It just felt confused.
Also, I never warmed to the characters. It may seem like this book will be equal parts POV of Carly and Kaitlyn, but really it was just Kaitlyn. I never quite learned who Carly was and didn’t much care. I’m not sure if that was on purpose, however. Kaitlyn I would warm to and then grow distant from. It was a lot of back and forth and I couldn’t quite make up my mind about her. I know she was going through some tough stuff but I couldn’t connect, especially towards the end of the novel where some of her actions felt forced.
The other characters I wasn’t that bothered about. I think they all went to slightly unbelievable lengths to help Kaitlyn with her predicament. They were more pawns to get the plot moving than real people. The only one I warmed to a little was Carly and Kaitlyn’s school friend Naida. She was interesting, especially with all her Mala beliefs. That was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the novel, the Mala rituals and mysticism. However, it also got a bit tangled up by the ending. The climax was messy and a little rushed. I saw the big reveal coming, although I didn’t believe in it. It was another plot point that didn’t feel like it fit properly and the writing, whilst it started well, got harried towards the end.
So, sounds like this should be a one star review after I’ve been slagging it off so much! In actuality, it did have plus points. I really enjoyed the format in which it was written, with the diary entries, camera footage, interviews and files. I thought the changes between the formats were good and made me want to keep reading, to see what happened next. There were also interesting anecdotes from whoever supposedly compiled all this evidence together. Some of these could be quite unsettling at times.
I also obviously enjoyed the premise. Despite my grievances, I wanted to know what happened and there was no chance of me ever DNFing it. The novel showed a lot of promise. If it had been better organised and executed with more skill, it could have been really great. However, this is of course Kurtagich’s first novel so those are things I’m willing to overlook. I will definitely be picking up her second novel, The Creeper Man, because I’ve heard it’s much better and I’m keen to see if she’s improved.
Overall, it certainly wasn’t the scariest horror I’ve ever read, not to mention it was a messy plot and the characters were a bit bland, but I would recommend it to those who perhaps are scared quite easily yet want to see if they can get into horror slowly, or just get into the mood for Halloween.
And that concludes my part in the Halloween Read-A-Thon! I only had two horror novels to read but, if you’re still taking part, I hope you enjoy it! And thanks again to Lauren for organising it and making those great graphics!
Have you read The Dead House? What about The Creeper Man? (Or And The Trees Crept In for the US version). Did you enjoy them? Do you agree with my review? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!