cover image The House of Ashes

The House of Ashes

Stuart Neville. Soho Crime, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61695-741-4

This gut-wrenching novel of psychological suspense with ghostly undertones from Edgar finalist Neville (Ratlines) opens early one morning with social worker Sara Keane scrubbing off the blood stains she often sees on the kitchen floor of the Ashes, the 120-year-old house her father-in-law bought for her and her angry architect husband, Damien, in Belfast, where the couple moved after “things went bad” in England. Damien, who’s not yet up, believes Sara is imagining the blood stains. Then Sara hears someone hammering on the front door. Outside is Mary Jackson, a disheveled old woman, who says the Ashes is her house and rants about missing children. Damien appears, recognizes Mary, and ushers her out of the house to take her back to the “care home.” Sara and Mary later develop a friendship tempered by shared emotional anguish. Alternating story lines show how Sara’s present-day woes intersect with Mary’s traumatic past and shed light on how women called Mummies and men called Daddies mistreated children in the house. This unforgettable tale of servitude and subservience, domestic abuse, and toxic masculinity builds to a resolution offering redemption and heartfelt solace. Neville has outdone himself. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Sept.)