REVIEW: House of Spines by Michael J Malone

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Read this book for: suspense, thriller, horror, supernatural elements, unreliable narrator, mental illness, amateur investigation

Quick Review: Not your typical haunted house story – a page-turner driven by the underlying mystery that brings a refreshing take on some well-loved narratives.


Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman…

HOUSE OF SPINES is not Michael Malone’s first novel, and that polish shows in some of the really interesting aspects of this gothic psychological thriller where a man is either losing his mind or being haunted by the ghost of a woman.

On the surface, this novel seems like your typical horror-movie setup. A man (Ran McGhie) inherits a vast estate from a long-lost family member who he didn’t know existed, but there are rumours about it being haunted and some sort of scandal attached to it. Ignoring these warnings and red flags, Ran happily moves in… but then weird things start happening. Is the house actually haunted? And who is this ghostly woman?

The fact that Ran is not a reliable narrator really elevates this novel beyond that predicable narrative. As he stops taking his prescribed medication for bipolar disorder, Ran has more and more encounters with the ghost. The disturbing part is that third-party facts and accounts seem to tally with his experiences. However, sometimes on unrelated matters, other’s observations differ widely and at times it is quite clear that occasionally Ran has a tenuous grasp on reality. To add to the confusion, the entire story is told from Ran’s point of view, as fact – his own experiences are real to him, but he is unable to separate objective reality from his own interpretation. The result is an incredibly visceral and vertigo-inducing trip into the tale through a lens that we can’t fully trust, but without any anchor points that would allow the reader to know what is real. Malone gives us incredible insight in this way into the challenges of mental illness when one’s own perceptions cannot be trusted – as well as keeping you glued to the story, desperate to know what is and is not true.

However, for me, the main element that kept me turning pages was the backstory of the house and Ran’s family. There are so many hints that take quite a while to pay off, and when they do, the reader is presented with several different possibilities as to what really happened. These false endings and variations on the story just heighten the mystery at the core of this novel, and Malone creates the perfect need-to-know feeling that all good mystery and suspense novels share.

HOUSE OF SPINES is a quick, light read, but a fascinating and complex one. I’d recommend it for anyone who appreciates a supernatural element to their crime writing or anyone looking to lose themselves to a novel for a few hours!



Many thanks to Orenda Books for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour. Check out the other great blogs listed below for their take on this novel!

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