Nightmare House. Douglas Clegg. 2004.
Welcome to a very satisfying ghost story.
It is October of 1926 when twenty-nine-year old Ethan Gravesend takes possession of his new inheritance: a monstrosity of mansion called Harrow located in a quiet village off the Hudson Valley.
Harrow is a legacy from Ethan’s wealthy – and some say, mad – grandfather who collected arcane and ancient objects from around the globe.
Ethan is excited to be back at Harrow. He has only the fondest memories…so he thinks…of summer and spring visits there as a child. He meets the old housekeeper, Mrs. Wentworth, and pretty Maggie Barrow who comes in to clean.
The house and its legion of unseen inhabitants soon lets Ethan know it is very much aware of – and anticipating – his presence. When he and Maggie and her young son Alf make a horrible discovery in a walled-in tower room, Ethan is catapulted into a true nightmare. There are secrets in the walls. Secrets in Ethan’s parentage. And madness potentially within Ethan himself as memories not so fond begin to surface.
Nightmare House has all the delicious elements of a classic ghost story: surprising secrets, an insular, brooding atmosphere, dark imaginative imagery, and classical allusions beautifully woven into the tale. Clegg’s storytelling is spot-on. Tantalizing snippets of a gruesome backstory involving an unnatural child and dark spiritualism experiments are revealed by the not-so-innocent Constable Pocket. Ethan, or Esteban, is narrating from an advanced age, insisting his mind is sharp, but how reliable is he really? A powerful storm, a possessive presence, a spooky crypt, and two questionable deaths bring a vivid denouement to this nicely-crafted tale.
As a bonus, the edition I read included an extra novella, Purity, which tells the story of another slightly damaged young man. A sociopath? With a Lovecraftian god? Also a fascinating read.