House of Sighs by Aaron Dries
Reviewed by Morgan K. Tanner
I am such a shallow individual that I bought this book solely because of the cover. Oh, and the fact that it’s a Crystal Lake release. I didn’t read any reviews, just checked the ratings, so went in to it expectantly blind (is that a thing?).
The beginning of this novel throws many characters at you. Seven seemingly unrelated people are introduced in quick succession. The story, with its very short chapters, thunders along like an out-of-control bus – a simile I didn’t use at the time but now think feels quite apt. It’s difficult to really get to know them and I was a little confused, but it was cool. You certainly get to meet them properly as the story goes along.
I say these people are unrelated but they all have one thing in common; they’re about to board the same bus.
Liz, the driver, has an extremely turbulent home life, it’s fair to say. Her father’s aggressive, her brother’s a drug dealer, and her mother’s in denial of it all. If any of her passengers knew her background I’m sure they’d have taken a taxi.
But Liz insists that this journey is free of charge. There’s no alarm bells going off, just excitement at the prospect of a free ride.
Soon, however, the passengers realise they are in the hands of a very deranged individual. Liz drives as though she’s stolen the bus and those on board realise they are in some deep, deep trouble. They hope that the bus will be stopped or noticed by the police, but this is small-town Australia, and the local force is not exactly bursting with law enforcement employees.
And so this crazy ride begins. The passengers come to a situation where they must fight to survive. After Liz knocks down a defenceless little girl – or decimates, to use a more appropriate term – they realise they are in some shit that’s certainly serious.
After one brave passenger’s head is destroyed by a bullet, the rest decide to try and figure out a strategy of escape. But before they manage one, they’re driven to Liz’s home. Remember her strange family? Well, instead of seeing Liz as someone who needs some professional help and possibly arresting, they view these strangers as enemies.
The family are just as crazy as Liz is. I did find this a little hard to roll with, but the novel was able to suspend my disbelief enough for me to go with it.
What follows is plenty of blood and gore, some nasty-ass kills, and some desperate measures the bus crew go to in order to survive.
You may think a story about a hostage situation in a single setting doesn’t really have the staying power for a novel, but what’s done well here is the backstories that are seamlessly placed in between the current action. You really get to know the characters, their histories, and their motivations.
However, this couldn’t save the middle portion of the novel for me. It wasn’t that I was getting bored, but there was certainly a ‘we’ve been here before’ kind of vibe going on. I was already, reluctantly, planning a negative-side-of-neutral review.
But I needn’t have worried because the ending ratchets up the violence, and then some. There’s some unexpected deaths, some genuinely unnerving mental breakdowns, and a monster unleashed that was a nice twist.
As I write this review and think back to the story, I’m growing more fond of it. Which for a ‘standard’ action-packed novel with death, violence, and insanity, says a lot.
It seems that many reviewers (I’ve now read some reviews) definitely dug this more than I did, so I’d recommend checking it out. And be more vigilant on bus journeys, everyone!
You can take my word for it or you can check it out for yourself as it’s Available Now.
About Morgan K. Tanner
Morgan K Tanner is a writer, drummer, and golfist currently residing in the English countryside. The idyllic surroundings make it an ideal place to write, drum, and hide the bodies. The busy sound of the typewriter is perfect to drown out the hum of the antiquated torture equipment.
When he’s not writing or inflicting pain and suffering on his numerous victims, he indulges himself in all things horror and metal.
His debut novella, An Army of Skin is available now.