Map of Blue Book Balloon

17 March 2020

Review - The Twisted Ones by T Kingfisher

Cover design by Natasha MacKenzie
The Twisted Ones
T Kingfisher
Titan Books, 17 March 2020
PB, e, 416pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for a free advance copy of this book to consider for review.

'I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lat down flat on the ground like the dead ones.'

This is an insidiously scary horror novel, the more so for the narrator's (a young woman called Melissa, generally called Mouse) consciously flippant tone ('It's okay. I wouldn't believe me either...') and for the sheer, banal everyday events that accompany the nightmares.

In particular, as Mouse proceeds with clearing her dead grandmother's house, she puts on the radio for company and we hear her thoughts on an endless fund-raising drive by the local NPR station, the presenter becoming more and more exhausted as Mouse's experience get more and more scary. At one point she wonders if the presenter didn't actually die years before, preserved in an an endless tape loop. The horrors are beginning to affect Mouse's perception of even ordinary, normal things.

The dead woman was universally disliked, making it a mystery why her second husband, a man known as Cotgrave who was Mouse's stepgrandfather, stuck with her: even to the extent, as becomes clear, of sleeping out in the woods (Mouse's grandma apparently stopping him sleeping). She was also a hoarder, with a collection of baby-sized dolls. So there's lots of scope for creepy moments as Mouse begins to empty out the house, accompanied only by her faithful dog, Bongo, a dim but devoted animal who will play a key part in the story.

The story takes off when Mouse stumbles across Cotgrave's journal, and when she begins to see strange things herself in the woods. The house seems on the brink, balanced by the ordinary, everyday world of coffee shops, the town dump and that NPR fundraiser and a background of weird, carved stones, shapes seen amongst the trees and, eventually, a truly frightening entity.

Obviously, Mouse should just lock the door, get back in her truck with Bongo, and drive out of there before it's too late.

Obviously, she doesn't, something that is inevitable and which Kingfisher handles skilfully - there are always just enough reasons for her to stay: a desire to find out more about Cotgrave, for example, leading on to more personal motives that make it unthinkable to run away. The stakes actually become very high, culminating in an episode of continuous, breath-stopping tension that tests everyone - including Foxy, a neighbour who's stepped in to help - to, and indeed beyond, their limits.

And just when you think that's over.. well, Kingfisher hits you with more. And more.

This is an intriguing supernatural mystery which moves very quickly from an interesting, speculative mode to the falling away of reality in place of something deep and dark to a place of absolute terror, peril and threat.

I loved it.

In her Author's Note, Kingfisher sketches out some of the sources for her book, giving a genuinely fascinating insight into the whys and wherefores - and showing where one might go to find more. If one dared...

I would strongly recommend this book, Kingfisher is a new and distinctive voice and delivers real unease.

For more about The Twisted Ones, see the publisher's website.

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