⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
After taking ownership of a sprawling but mysterious estate, a young family find themselves facing a horrifying demonic presence in Chenter Loard’s latest scarefest.
Often criticized for two dimensional characters and particularly grisly violence, Glitterhope House is a departure that may be seen as a concession by Loard to his critics, but it’s also a damned scary affair.
In it, a child is not presented as an easy target nor to act as a symbol of purity or innocence to be corrupted or contrasted with an evil antagonist. Instead, six year old Lily is the heart and soul of Loard’s tale. She is at the center almost from the beginning as her inquisitive mind sets the tone, her pertinent questions providing us with all we need to know to get things started.
Young newlyweds buy a huge, old fixer upper at auction without ever having set foot inside. They simply walked the property and fell in love with the place. An inspection reassures them the bones are good but there are several issues which the couple must address. With literally all their savings already poured into their new home and their budget stretched to its limit, our young family can barely afford delivery pizza: Lily offers her piggybank stash when she sees her tapped out parents scramble for loose change to tip the driver. The couple spend their days remodeling and dreaming of the future and their nights dreading any unforeseen budget busters.
Included in the sale are the contents of the estate which contains a huge garage packed with antiques of all kinds including bicycles and cars, dioramas, paintings, light bulbs, taxidermy and much more, suggesting they might need to open a curiosity shop and use that to pay the bills when they’re hit with their first big financial setback in the form of faulty electrical wiring.
Soon after, while exploring one of the house’s few untouched rooms, mom finds a rare French 1st printed edition Jules Verne in surprisingly good shape which turns out to be authentic and worth thousands. So they’re a happy family again, back on track financially and finally able to enjoy the house they bought, but their bliss is again short lived when their water heater konks out.
Once the plumber leaves, Lily interrupts her parents’ money talk with the news that her pet spider Charlie has died. The grief in their daughter’s eyes too much for either of them, they ask Lily what she would like to do with his remains.
“Bury him,” the child says. “In the yard?” they ask, but the child shakes her head.
Intrepid dad grabs a trowel from the tool box and he and Lily take Charlie down into the dirt floor basement where they can give him a proper burial. Charlie is in an old Pokemon box, by the way.
After excavating a big enough hole dad asks Lily if she wants to place Charlie into his final resting place, but she again shakes her head, offering instead to hold the flashlight. In the exchange he catches a glint off something which turns out to be a chunk of pure gold.
So this cycle of renovation improvement, financial setback and pleasant discovery keeps escalating, affording our young protagonists a fully restored manor in all its 19th Century splendor. But there have been a few casualties along the way. Two servicemen fell through the roof of the house when they attempted to repair a downed power line and died from their injuries. A carpenter lost his arm when a temporary support beam failed.
As press coverage of the historic restoration increases, knowledge of the house’s use as a safe haven for the homeless or destitute in its past inspires the young couple to do the same. Once a month they open the house to anyone who wishes to enter and be fed a good meal. By now the family can afford to be charitable. Their investment has literally yielded enough gold and jewels, rare, high end antiquities etc to pay off their entire debt, provide for their daughter’s full education and get them well on their way to a second nest egg.
What they don’t know is the house allows the less trustworthy needy a chance for an exclusive return engagement by unlocking doors and windows for would-be cat burglars who caught glimpses of things they wouldn’t mind having for themselves when they were inside as welcomed guests. One man is afforded access to the basement through a now open bulkhead door where the treasure he unearths becomes the least of his concerns. Another finds more than just a box of old comic books under the stairs. One particularly unfortunate woman loses more than her nerve after sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.
So another cycle continues, this one apparently perpetuating the first, with our family only the latest pawns. Lily has strange dreams which may help solve the mystery of Glitterhope House.
Loard wrote five novels as a satirist before Sandwiches, his first horror, was published in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2011 when he was awarded Best New Creep at The Creepies in Guam that sales really took off. His next three offerings were horror; all three were bestsellers and all three have been made into films.
Dominic Ricardo, editor of The West Atlantic, once said of Loard “you always know where he’s going but he still manages to surprise you,” which, backhanded as that praise may be, sums up Glitterhope House pretty well. While not trying to reinvent the genre Loard still weaves a tense tale filled with much dread and some truly memorable willie givers like what lurks behind that dusty old bag of unopened Christmas presents in the attic crawlspace or what’s in the back seat of the Wildcat convertible in the garage.
Lily’s dreams are a highlight with their wonderfully familiar time and place shifts, affording Loard plenty of space to provide those odd details that always seem to stick out even after the deeper content of the dream is forgotten. Whether it’s stepping out of a cab into a subterranean train station or getting off an elevated trolley car ride onto a waiting boat, it all seems real enough while it’s happening, just like our nightly excursions, but how much of the child’s dreams are products of her own mind or the influence of another is unclear until the reveal, and that’s when the action kicks into overdrive. It’s a terrific read.
Full of darkness infused with light, Loard’s latest is well crafted fun with complex characters (and a threat to match) and comes highly recommended.