The haunted house story is one of the oldest tropes in horror fiction. It is one that nearly every writer falls back on at some point in their career. Many think that this it is an easy option. It's not, personally I think this is the hardest of all sub genres to write.
At the heart of Haunted House story there a couple of things, the sense of loss of control from the protagonist, and the sense of isolation from the normal world. A writer has to get these spot on otherwise their story is just going to feel like a PG-13 version of Rentaghost. Where all sense of atmosphere is lost to cheap shocks and cringe worthy dialogue.
In Willie Meikle's Tormentor we see Jim Greenwood, distraught and nearly broken following the death of his soulmate relocate to wild coast of Skye. Having purchased an old, old house that may or may not harbour ancient secrets. Jim's potentially idyllic life is soon raised to the ground with a series of seemingly ghostly encounters and strange encounters with the locals. Is the house haunted, or is Jim suffering from a breakdown following the death of his wife, or are the locals not so welcoming as we are led to believe?
Don't worry all is revealed in great fashion. With Tormentor William Meikle has crafted a genuine classic Haunted House story that excels in so many different ways. The narrative draws you in from the first page. There is a leanness to the story that perfectly matches the sense of loneliness and isolation that Jim feels. I particularly liked the line about how Jim would run from anything that might cause him harm or despair. The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner, is a perfect way to describe the emotional state of our protagonist. Even though he is welcomed with open arms by practically everyone he meets on Skye, he is never truly in company of anyone. Not even the super friendly estate agent who sold him the house.
Running parallel to this sense of loneliness is a great sense of loss of control.When things start going bump in the dark, the sense of despair the Jim goes through when he think he is the target attention is crafted perfectly. As a protagonist Jim fits into the story extremely well. He is basically your average Joe, a man much like you and me. And when things really start to go wrong for him we cannot help but feel for his loss and pain.
Tormentor also has a wonderful sense of place. I have read two haunted house stories based in Skye this year. One of them despite the authors research may as well have been set on Jupiter as the sense of place in their story was gossamer thin. This is not the case with Tormentor. Meikle captures the sense of duality of Skye to a T. The sense of bleakness of the North coast of the island mirrors the bleakness in the heart and soul of Jim flawlessly, while the warmness of the Islanders counterbalances the protagonists dilemma. Even the dialogue of the supporting cast feels real, rather than sounding like a bunch of cookie cutter American teenagers, that the other book really suffered from.
The book successfully manages to mix Blair Witch like mythology with the rich mythology of the island itself. The supernatural elements of the story are thankfully kept more low key and insidious. Meikle doesn't just chuck in some stupid shock scene just for the sake of it. The chills come from a more subtle slow build up of dread, something with makes for a far better haunted house story.
Tormentor is not only the best haunted house set on Skye, it is the best haunted house story I have read this year.