The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville

Today it’s back to Mandie who has a review of The House of Ashes by Stuart Neville. Thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the tour invite and to publisher Zaffre for the advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 03 February 2022
Publisher: Zaffre

About the Book

For Sara Keane, it was supposed to be a second chance. A new country. A new house. A new beginning with her husband Damien.

Then came the knock on the door.

Elderly Mary Jackson can’t understand why Sara and her husband are living in her home. She remembers the fire, and the house burning down. But she also remembers the children. The children who need her, whom she must protect.

‘The children will find you,’ she tells Sara, because Mary knows she needs help too. Sara soon becomes obsessed with what happened in that house nearly sixty years ago – the tragic, bloody night her husband never intended for her to discover. And Mary – silent for six decades – is finally ready to tell her story . . .

Mandie’s Thoughts

I have made it my mission this year to read authors that are new to me, and Stuart Neville falls into that category so when I had the opportunity to read his latest book The House of Ashes I jumped at the chance and boy I am glad that I did as I got so involved in it that I read it in a day which for me is nothing short of a miracle.

The book opens with a house fire and from here the story takes you on a journey of two of the inhabitants of that house, Sara Keane the current owner and Mary who although she now resides in a home lived in the house up until the time of the fire. The book takes you between the present day from the viewpoint of Sara and 60 years in the past when Mary was a small child, telling the story of her life and what led up to a tragic and bloody event that somehow still haunts the house. Although on the surface their lives seem worlds apart there is something dark that links them together that is altogether shocking yet unfortunately true to life.

Sara has moved to Ireland with her husband Damien for a fresh start after she tried to take her own life. When they first got together he was attentive and loving however over time he turned into a controlling and manipulative husband that slowly but surely cut Sara off from all her friends with the move being the final act. She knows deep down that their relationship is toxic but like most in that situation she does everything she can to not antagonise him as he always seems sorry. As the story progresses and his behaviour becomes more violent you have to hope that she will find the strength she needs to finally escape him and unearth the truth behind what happened all those years ago.

Mary’s story is hard to read at times as she describes being treated as both a slave and a prisoner in the house owned by the Jackson family. In her eyes she has 3 daddies and 2 mummies, but she is kept in the cellar with the other women, fed scraps and only allowed up for chores. What they live through is far worse than Sara and it is their determination to survive that is keeping them alive, knowing that the brutality they face would be far worse if they tried to escape. Moments outside are few and far between but are seen as treats, and they make the most of them knowing full well that it could end at any time.

This is such a compelling and heart-breaking story told predominantly through the eyes of Sara and Mary, yet it is the voices of Esther and Joy that affected me the most. It is dark in places with a haunting vibe, but it is a book I would recommend everyone should read.

About the Author

Stuart Neville’s debut novel, THE TWELVE (published in the USA as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST), won the Mystery/Thriller category of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was picked as one of the top crime novels of 2009 by both the New York Times and the LA Times. He has been shortlisted for various awards, including the Barry, Macavity, Dilys awards, as well as the Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year. He has since published three critically acclaimed sequels, COLLUSION, STOLEN SOULS and THE FINAL SILENCE.

His first four novels have each been longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and RATLINES was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

Stuart’s novels have been translated into various languages, including German, Japanese, Polish, Swedish, Greek and more. The French edition of The Ghosts of Belfast, Les Fantômes de Belfast, won Le Prix Mystère de la Critique du Meilleur Roman Étranger and Grand Prix du Roman Noir Étranger.

His fourth novel, RATLINES, about Nazis harboured by the Irish state following WWII is currently in development for television.

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