The Half Burnt House by Alex North

Today I am sharing my thoughts on the brand new chiller thriller from Alex North, The Half Burnt House. My thanks to publisher Michael Joseph for the advance copy via Netgalley. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Netgalley
Release Date: 16 March 2023
Publisher: Michael Joseph

About the Book

The spine-tingling new thriller from the internationally bestselling author of THE WHISPER MAN, a Richard and Judy pick.

Katie always looked after her beloved younger brother Chris – until she left him alone for one selfish afternoon, and their picture-perfect family fell apart. Although Chris survived the attack, the scars ran deeper than the ones left across his face. Now they’re adults, and they haven’t spoken in years. Then she gets a call, from Detective Laurence Page.

Page is facing an unusually disturbing crime scene. Alan Hobbes, a distinguished and wealthy philosophy professor, has been brutally murdered. Hobbes was living in a sprawling mansion – but one that remains half-ruined by a decades-old fire, wind and rain howling through the gaping, creaking roof.

Page only has one suspect: Chris, caught on CCTV at the house. But he has plenty of questions. What could cause a man as wealthy as Hobbes not to repair his home? Why did he seem to know his death was coming, yet do nothing to stop it? And why was he obsessed with a legendary local serial killer?

But Katie only has one thing on her mind. She knows this is her last, best chance to finally save her brother, and make up for her negligence all those years ago.

But she can’t possibly imagine just how much danger he’s in…

My Thoughts

Alex North has once again served up a twisted, and often chilling, psychological thriller that really keeps readers on edge. I can honestly say that, as I started reading, I had no idea where this story would lead. The opening scenes are somewhat misleading, quite the mundane, everyday situation – older sister fed up at having to look after younger sibling, makes one fated decision to do what she wants just for one – right up until the moment that it’s not. The moment that changes their lives irreparably, but that also holds the key to what is yet to come. Although what that might be is far from obvious. Let’s just say that hindsight is a wonderful thing and that there are no loose ends left by the end of the book.

Now, for me, this was a book which I had to work my way into. There are several threads to the book – the opening chapter in which Katie’s makes what could be the biggest mistake of her life, the murder investigation that throws Katie’s present day life into turmoil, and some scenes set in the past where we meet two brothers whose father has a somewhat disturbing pastime. It’s not easy to see the connection between them, and they did, initially, seem like very separate stories. If anything, I was more caught up in the scenes from the past, having as they did, a kind of gothic edge and the kind of darkness I really enjoy in a book. But as the link between the separate stories started to become clear, and the roles that the characters of the present day play in the story are properly revealed, the more I settled into the book as a whole. I even found the pace of the book picked up, as did the sense of tension and intrigue. The second half of the book really flew by and, despite being certain I knew where the story was leading, there were still some very dark and disturbing revelations to come.

Alex North has created a perfect setting in the eponymous ‘half burnt house’. I think that as a setting it would be ominous enough, quite foreboding in its size and clear grandeur. But the fact that it has lain in almost ruins for so long, that one man, the victim that Katie’s brother Chris stands accused of killing, reside in such a place, confined to what can only be described as quite chilling quarters, just adds a layer of mystery and tension to the book, as well as a really chill down the spine. The more I learned of the house’s history, the more unsettling the story became and, the more I became invested in the story. Yes, I am twisted, and yes, I do love the dark side of fiction.

With the majority of the story told from the perspectives of Katie and Detective Laurence Page, it is important that theses characters are compelling, that we feel a connection to them. And I did. Whilst Katie’s actions did seem a little reckless at times, she is driven by guilt, the sense that she let her brother down. Whilst reluctant at first to get involved, with her mother’s encouragement, she becomes invested and, as a result, so did I. Detective Page is a strangely likeable character. He has an unexpected link to Katie and her brother, and there was something about his style that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but which drew me deeper into the story. As for some of the other characters who feature throughout the book, they have the right balance of creepiness and intrigue, and I wanted to know just how, and where, they fit into the whole case.

This is a multilayered story of murder, fanaticism and revenge, one which is framed by beautifully descriptive language and the perfect tone for creating unease from the very beginning. I think for some, the slow start and the multitude of perspectives, back and forth in time, may be off-putting, but it is worth investing your time and watching the story play out. It really does start to pick up in pace and those fractured scenes that seemingly come from nowhere, start to become clear as we head towards the chilling and tension laden finale. If you’ve liked the author’s previous work, this will be right up your street.

About the Author

Alex North was born in Leeds, where he now lives with his wife and son. He studied Philosophy at Leeds University, and prior to becoming a writer he worked there in their sociology department. The Whisper Man was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and is being published in more than 30 languages.

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