‘The Nightmare Room’ by Chris Sorensen

New York audiobook narrator Peter Larson and his wife Hannah head to his hometown of Maple City to help Peter’s ailing father and to put a recent tragedy behind them.

Though the small, Midwestern town seems like the idyllic place to start afresh, Peter and Hannah will soon learn that evil currents flow beneath its surface. 

It’s taken me a while to work out why this book didn’t work for me. It has a lot going for it. It’s written about an audiobook narrator by an audiobook narrator, which adds some authenticity and gives some creepy ways of being haunted in a small box in the basement. It has an original and very clever twist on the haunted house trope. The story of who is haunting whom and why is very different from the standard haunted house trope. The resolution is equally innovative. The plot is soaked in that unique distress that comes from bad things happening to children.

And yet, I could not get into this book.

I was listening to the audiobook version, which is narrated by the author, who is a professional and prolific audiobook narrator but who I didn’t enjoy listening to To me, the main character sounded too old and too weak to fit well with the text. The narration didn’t add to the tension and sometimes detracted from it.

I didn’t like the main character, which is often an OK thing but, in this case, I didn’t believe in him either. For all sorts of reasons, he wasn’t a very reliable narrator but even so, I couldn’t match his motives to his actions,

I especially didn’t believe in the relationship between the husband and wife. They’d recently lost a child, survived an attempt at self-harm and uprooted themselves from their support network and moved across the country without having a good understanding of what they would find when they arrived. I think this would put most couples under huge stress. There would be fights, guilt, recriminations, tensions and emotional distance. There was a little of this at the beginning of the book but we were soon treated to cloyingly sentimental dialogue that both people seemed to old for and a sugary, second-honeymoon romance type of relationship that I couldn’t believe in.

Then there were the convenient ‘experts’ who helped our hero solve his problems. They seemed like a plot device with a little bit of Goth-girl eccentricity thrown in in lieu of a personality. It was too pat for me.

Some of the scenes, especially before I knew what was going on, were quite scary and the mixture of dream and memory was well done.

Then there was the ending. It worked. Or at least the logic did. And it was original. But it also felt too nice and too easy – a sort of cop-out for a horror book.

Perhaps my problem was that I went in expecting a clever haunted house horror book and got a clever fairytale instead.

I’m sure lots of people would have fun with this but I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

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