21 September 2017

Blogtour review - House of Spines

House of Spines
Michael J Malone
Brenda Books, 31 October 2017
PB, 294pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book and for inviting me to take part in the blogtour.

Glaswegian Ranald McGie hasn't had an easy life - after discovering his parents dead when he was eighteen, he succumbed to bipolar episodes, split up with his wife Martie and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. He slowly rebuilt and recovered, having lost almost everything, but he considers his life a dull, grey affair, the peaks and troughs all dialled down by the drugs he takes to control his condition.

Now, for a change, fate seems to be smiling on him. Ran unexpectedly inherits a swish house from a great uncle he'd never heard of. It has luxurious bed and reception rooms, a gym with a sauna and pool and, best of all, a massive library. All he has to do is live there and enjoy it.

What can possibly go wrong?

A lot, obviously. The alert reader will already have spotted the Gothic flourishes - a mysterious house, parts of which are to be left alone; taciturn servants who seem to have their own agenda and - not a spoiler - a whiff of the supernatural. It's a tried and tested recipe but none the worse for that and, like a poet composing a good sonnet, in Malone's hands the strictures of the genre stimulate creativity and produce an enthralling and at times downright creepy story.

Michael Malone
Of course the mental health angle only adds to this - we're with Ran all the way as he agonises over what he's seeing and debates its reality with himself, as he begins to uncover layers of his family history that he never suspected but which may illuminate his condition, as as he faces hard truths that he's tried to hide away for years. A friend suggests a supernatural angle to the mystery; Ran wavers between welcoming this as a more palatable alternative than losing his hold on reality - and terror at what it would mean if it were true.

Ran isn't, perhaps, the most proactive of characters but then the situation he's in is isolating, paralysing and like nothing he's experienced before.  I found his reactions believable (though I've never suffered from Ran's condition and I can't say how well Malone captures it, it does ring true to me). In stories like this one is often (silently) screaming at the protagonist to wise up, to take control. I found myself not doing that. Malone builds great sympathy with Ran, even when he does some very silly things, and any reader with a heart will I think be cheering him on - while recognising his faults.

Above all, perhaps, it's interesting to see a male protagonist in this sort of Hitchcockian situation, one which (male) authors often seem to inflict by preference on women. And to recognise that - as in real life - it's not an easy one to get out of.

I loved Malone's previous book, A Suitable Lie, and there are some parallels here - isolation, growing paranoia, no way out - but also great differences, most notably, as I've said, the way this book plays with a familiar genre and makes it new.

It was a great read, and I look forward to reading what Malone does next.


  1. Hi David - love the "Glasgow Gothic" thing! Thank you so much for being part of the tour. It is very much appreciated!

  2. A pleasure. It was a great book to read and I wish it much success (I think that Glasgow Gothic should DEFINITELY be a thing...)

  3. Fab review David! We need more Glasgow Gothic!