“The Shadow House” is a pacy domestic thriller tinged with horror; not the kind that makes your skin prickle, or your heart explode at the sound of leaves crunching outside your window à la Stephen King (although, yeah, maybe check that out); rather the discomforting kind of horror that evokes a creeping sense of dread.
At the heart of Anna Downes’s second novel are two women both trying to escape the trauma of their pasts and manage through the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Their plot lines, separated by six years, are linked tangentially at first, then become increasingly knotted.
In the present, single mother Alex arrives at an isolated eco village in rural New South Wales with her teenage son and newborn daughter. Her intention is to settle her family somewhere safe and distant from the abusive relationship she has just escaped, and Pine Ridge is seemingly exactly that: remote, idyllic, with a close-knit community they can bond with and form a protective cocoon.
The dead bird in a box on her doorstep suggests someone’s not happy she’s here.
Subsequent events substantiate this; happenings eerily similar to those that occurred years earlier, before a teenage boy went missing from a now-abandoned farmhouse, which are detailed from the perspective of his mother Renee. As Alex tries to determine who is threatening her family, she learns about a local legend: the witch who steals children; who marks her prey by leaving something dead for them. And she discovers what really happened to Renee’s son.
Downes has engineered another efficient page-turner, and while there is a revelation in “The Shadow House” that I think veteran thriller readers will have sussed out long before it happens on the page, it doesn’t detract from the vigour of the storytelling, or erode the emotional impact of the book’s biggest moments. Fast-paced and helplessly entertaining, it’s everything readers will expect from the writer of “The Safe Place.”
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 28th September 2021