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The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Crime/Thriller

By Susan Condon

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It is said, that to write well, you must read well. So, whether to improve your writing or for the pure enjoyment of a great tale, well-told, place Billy O’Callaghan’s, The Dead House, at the top of your list.

It was while scrolling through writing.ie recently that I came across an article about his debut novel that piqued my interest, the title alone creating goose bumps. It was apparent that, at the very least, I’d read a story written by a master short story writer who has honed his craft. He has close to a hundred stories published in literary journals and magazines around the world while still others have won awards including the 2013 Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award for Short Story of the Year. That’s no mean feat!

So I went in search of The Dead House, published in early May, and on my third attempt managed to secure a copy. It all helped to heighten my anticipation. But finding this beautifully bound novel with its haunting image on any book shelf, I would have been instantly drawn to it. I felt as I had as a child when I came across a book I hadn’t read by one of my favourite authors and settled down to read, with a fervent hope that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.

O’Callaghan delivers a well constructed story which gradually builds to a heart-stopping crescendo. I read this book in two sittings. After the first ninety-five pages I took a breather, sending O’Callaghan a Tweet to tell him how much I enjoyed his book but that I’d probably be too scared to sleep if I read any more. He advised that another fifty pages in and I’d definitely be awake. I should have listened! Except – after another fifty pages – I no longer had the power to close the book. I had to read on. Unfortunately for me, it was close to midnight when I read the final page.

Perhaps I shouldn’t reveal that a sleepless hour later, I felt compelled to remove this book from my bedside locker and leave it hidden behind closed curtains on the landing. The following morning I could laugh at such foolishness but, the night before lying in a darkened room, my imagination was stirred enough to contemplate the possibility that something evil might seep through its pages.

O’Callaghan, with the eye of an artist, creates a landscape that becomes every bit as relevant a character in his novel as Maggie Turner. Although totally different, The Dead House, for me, created the same feeling of menace and dread as two of my favourite supernatural books – Stephen King’s, The Shining and James Herbert’s, The Secret of Crickley Hall. Each of them left me pondering the events that delivered their characters into a world where evil could reach out to touch them. Whether living or dead, O’Callaghan conjures such believable characters that when you close your eyes it’s impossible to believe that they’ve never actually drawn a breath. He delivers a perfect ending to this ghost story ensuring the reader is left haunted, just enough, to have them looking over their shoulder as they climb the stairs to bed.

(c) Susan Condon

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