NYCTOPHOBIA by Christopher Fowler

Hyperion House, standing high in the hills of Southern Spain, seems like an ideal home for Callie and Meteo, an architectural student and her wine importer husband. The grand old house has been designed to ensure that it is filled with light for as much time as possible, which is perfect for Callie, who suffers from nyctophobia (an extreme fear of the dark). It also comes complete with a mute gardener and a sinister housekeeper. Oh, and a section of the rear of the house that is locked, and appears to be permanently steeped in darkness…

I’ve been a fan of Chris Fowler’s work for many years. More recently he’s been writing the Bryant and May strange detective novels, of which I read the first few (and enjoyed them) but for some reason have lapsed (too many books, too little time!) but I’d like to pick them up again at some point.

I read Nyctophobia because it was a standalone novel, self contained and instantly accessible. The pacing of the book is great. Read the first paragraph and you’re hooked. By the time I had finished the first chapter I was expecting a fairly standard haunted house novel, but was entirely happy to journey on, as Fowler’s writing is so strong. However, as the story progressed I realised that there was so much more to the novel than a haunted house story. The half-light, half-dark aspect of the house is particularly fascinating. Fowler includes a couple of scenes where the characters venture into the ‘other realms’ of the house and the action is unbelievably creepy. The description of the souls that inhabit the dark side (originally the servants’ quarters) are horrific and nightmarish. And there’s a sequence involving a hornet’s nest that feels brutal and heart-breaking.

Nyctophobia is an unpretentious, fast-paced slice of horror. Whilst it’s difficult to say it reinvents the haunted house novel, it does at least attempt to try something different with the trope, and undoubtedly pulls it off. The Spanish location is evocative and interesting – Fowler clearly knows Spain and the Spanish ways – and there’s the perfect balance between scary scenes and Callie’s fascinating research into the mysterious history of Hyperion House. I really enjoyed reading this, and it has given me fresh impetus to return to the Bryant and May series. Fowler is a natural writer. You really feel you’re in good hands when reading one of his books. Definitely recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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