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It has been seven years since Emma’s accident confined her to a wheelchair, seven years since she has seen her grandmother or the Waterwitch inn in Cornwall. Returning to Cornwall, because of her grandmother's failing health, Emma is reunited with Jem, a childhood friend and his sister, Shell. Together they will have to confront the inn's dark history and the threat which may yet still live within its walls...
The Haunting (2016 340 pages) is a young adult horror story, written by Alex Bell.
There is much to recommend this novel and some things which didn’t quite work. Emma is confined to a wheelchair following the accident and is aided by her dog Bailey. Apart from the occasional practical element, like the limitations on using the stairs and Emma’s daily experience of being disabled, Bell does not allow her disability to inhibit her in any way. As a character she is both brave and engaging, however her voice, within the novel often sounded like that of a much younger character, rather than a seventeen year old girl on the cusp of womanhood.
When she gets to Cornwall, and is reunited with Jem and his sister, she finds two haunted characters, not just by the inn, but also by being the subject of physical abuse by their father. Jem seems a little distracted and disturbed, Shell believes that she is a witch who is haunted by dead bird wings. For much of the book it is unclear just where the teenager’s traumas are really springing from, their treatment at the hands of their father or the real threat from the inn.
Bell has played a nice little twist on the haunted house theme and through the book you discover that the timbers which supported the inn had initially belonged to a ship, of the same name, which had a dark history, eventually being found adrift, Mary Celeste style, with all the crew missing. The ship was thought to have been cursed by a witch and was the subject of many unexplained deaths. This idea alone could have made a good novel; its inclusion goes a long way to making the novel feel more rounded.
The story is told from the three perspectives of Emma, Jem and Shell, which creates some interesting juxtapositions. Shell is convinced of her witch powers and the ghost in the inn, where as both Emma and especially Jem think that what she is experiencing are hallucinations brought on by the trauma of their violent father. For the reader this dilemma is left hanging until nearly the end of the book when Bell decides which side of the story he wants to get behind.
So, another good book in the Red Eye series, although I did think that Frozen Charlotte (2015) was a better paced novel. Both offer up rich and detailed macabre worlds.