House of Spines

Written by Michael Malone

Review written by Bob Cartwright


House of Spines
Orenda Books
RRP: £8.99
Released: September 15, 2017
Pbk Original

Michael Malone is a Scottish poet who has previously turned his hand to psychological thrillers (A Suitable Lie),  has a more than passing interest in crime fiction as a reviewer for Crimesquad, and with House of Spines presents his crime fiction debut. And anyone who thinks poets should not write crime fiction better be prepared to re-evaluate that position.

The book pulls together and revisits a number of literary genres that I had assumed were long “dead and buried”, largely it appears a measure of my ignorance. The principal genre being in this instance the haunted house scenario which will invoke Rebecca’s Manderley, and, even further back, Jane Eyre’s Thornfield. Thus Malone introduces us to Newton Hall, a daunting book-lined mansion in the leafy Glasgow suburb of Bearsden. The hall has been bequeathed to Ranald, quickly reduced to Ran, McGhie in the will of a great uncle, relative of Ran’s mother. Over a number of years the great uncle, Alexander Fitzpatrick, has followed Ran’s progress with a kindly eye and a guilt complex which dates back to the eviction of Ran’s mother from Newton for daring to fall in love with a his father, an erstwhile member of the proletariat, and someone therefore totally unsuitable for inclusion in the Fitzpatrick dynasty.

However, in Ran’s case it is a bit inappropriate to talk of progress. He is bi-polar, an apparent effect of either his mother’s overbearing attentions, or his discovery of both parents dead, in a presumed suicide pact, on his return from school one afternoon.  Yet he has experimented with university and marriage (failing at both), survived a period sectioned  for psychological care, subsists on journalistic and writing scraps thrown to him occasionally by a London agent, and exists, by himself in a small tenement flat, until  he is confronted by ownership of Newton and the prospect of a relatively secure future.

Lucky old Ran, you might venture. But life at Newton is no bed of roses. It comes equipped with a seductive, but threatening spectre, an outcome of the indiscretions of previous Fitzpatricks, which soon threatens to take over Ran’s precarious existence. Add to that the discovery of two new cousins, Marcus and Rebecca, an evil pair who have inherited a share of the  Fitzpatrick dosh but would like a lot more of it. Those features do rather take the edge off the spines of books, the luxurious swimming pool, as well as the kindly attentions of Mr and Mrs Hackett, the Fitzpatrick’s loyal old retainers.

Newton compels Ran to revisit his history – his relations with his mother and father, and the background to their death, with his ex-wife Martie, and primarily with the Fitzpatrick dynasty and their ancestral pile. It’s a lonely and painful experience which Malone draws the reader into with the greatest of ease.  House of Spines is a very accomplished crime fiction debut which might just persuade Michael Malone to put the poetry on the backboiler.




Home
Book Reviews
Features
Interviews
News
Columns
Authors
Competitions
Blog
Shop
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor

THIS WEBSITE IS © SHOTS COLLECTIVE. NOT TO BE REPRODUCED ELECTRONICALLY EITHER WHOLLY OR IN PART WITHOUT PRIOR PERMISSION OF THE EDITOR.