When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband, Virgil Doyle, is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.
Noemí’s more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she heads immediately to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin. She’s tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who is fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he wants to help – but he might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.
There have been so many modern gothic novels recently – Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching for one, Laura Purcell, Francine Toon’s Pine… – that the genre feels a little stale. Moreno-Garcia manages to simultaneously seems to breathe fresh life into these novels, whilst creating a narrative that is deeply endebted to and captures the same power as – as well as holding its own with – Dracula, Rebecca and Jane Eyre.
What I Liked
- Noemí: Noemí Taboada was a great character who really developed in the novel from slightly annoying entitled socialite to a heroine with a backbone of steel. One example of that development was her clothing – and there was a lot references to her dresses and jackets – which felt frivolous and petty at the start but by the end her dresses had become a form of armour as she dressed for battle. Wonderful!
- High Place: this was a genuinely creepy, Gothic mansion with such a deliciously pervasive sense of threat and atmosphere. Home to the displaced Doyle family and its patriarch Howard, the novel builds the house as a character in its own right, decrepit, rotting, damp and desolate.
- The dripping sense of horror and nightmare and violation that stalked the rooms and corridors of High Place, where nightmare and reality merge and overlap and blur, where walls are dripping slabs of meat and ghost inhabit the wallpaper.
What I Disliked
- Too much rationalism of the Gothic threat: too many explanations. It’s not really a spoiler – though if you don’t want to read on then please don’t! – but the novel really delves into the source of the evil that floods the fabric of the house and the family. And finding out that it was, basically, mushrooms felt a little underwhelming. Clever and smart but not dramatic.
- The rather slow beginning: this was a slow burn of a novel which did reward the time invested into opening chapters, but there were a few times when I wondered when things were going to get going. Once they did, though, things got weird and tense and oh-so good.
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Date: 30th June 2020