Society Place: Andrew David Barker
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
Homes are supposed to be our sanctuary from the world and when that safety is violated by malignant forces it’s absolutely terrifying. In a good haunted house story, the sense of danger builds, nearly suffocating the characters. But in the best haunted tales, that sense of dread bleeds off the page, drowning the reader in despair. Society Place by Andrew David Barker is one of the best novels in the haunted house subgenre I’ve ever read. The setting, characters, and evil entities are all chilling, but the style of writing is so immersive I almost felt I had to claw my way out of impending doom.
The story begins during a heatwave in August 1976 in Normanton, Derby, UK. With notes of Led Zeppelin rocking through the air, kids kicking ball in the road, and nothing but pavement and bricks in view, Heather Lowes walks up to her new home, number two Society Place. Recently widowed, Heather is pregnant, alone, and trying to hold onto a glimmer of hope that her life is about to get better.
Of course, because this is a horror story, the reader knows things are only going to get worse for our main character. However, the set-up is filled with so many rich details you can’t help but want to hold onto hope with her. Even as we see her grappling with grief, other past traumas, and her upcoming single motherhood, there’s a strength to her character which I found endearing and quickly gained my emotional investment. In fact, all the characters are captivating and engaging.
As unsettling events creep over Heather’s life, she reaches out to the only family she has, her brother Mike and his life hasn’t been going that well either. Embracing the role of protector, Mike tries to shield his sister from a disturbing discovery in the cellar, and as the story progresses, he’s pulled between pursuing his own dreams and remaining Heather’s support system.
We also meet Rafferty, a young boy who lives just a few houses down. Normally I’m not drawn into child characters as they can often feel like unneeded distractions from the main plot, but the author has seamlessly woven Rafferty’s life into the heart of the book. From dysfunctional home life to his encounter with the “Once-Man,” I found myself looking forward to every page spent from Rafferty’s point of view.
In the second half of the book, another character is introduced, with her experiences taking place in 2019. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you who she is, but she has an equally compelling storyline. From that point in the novel through to the end, the narrative flips back and forth between the events of 1976 and 2019. Both are incredibly intense, and the author deftly uses this timeline tug-of-war to heighten the anxiety of the reader.
I’ve purposefully left out most of the plot points because Society Place is a book best enjoyed by just experiencing it. However, I will say be careful not to disturb the nest of ghosts, the “Once-Man” is horrifying, and having a stress ball on hand while reading is advisable.
Society Place by Andrew David Barker is a gem of a book that deserves a space alongside the best haunted house stories.
Set during the blazing English summer of 1976, recently widowed Heather Lowes moves into the house she was supposed to live in with her husband.
But now she is alone.
Or at least, she thinks she is.
It is a normal terrace house, on an everyday, run-down working class street in a dying industrial town. A place that seldom sees the extraordinary. However, when Heather meets her new neighbours – the old woman next door, the kid from a few doors down – they all seem concerned that she has moved into the house at the end of Society Place.
They seem to know something.
Heather’s nights in the house are troubled. She senses a presence, particularly on the stairs, and down in the cellar. She dare not go down there. As the sweltering summer rages on, Heather experiences supernatural turmoil that tests her sanity and pushes her understanding of reality to its very limits. She learns that there isn’t just one ghost. There is a Nest of Ghosts that haunt, not just her house, but all the houses on Society Place. She also comes to learn of the Nest’s interest in the baby growing inside her, and of the far-reaching consequences of the events of that summer and how they will still be felt into the first decades of the 21st century.
Welcome to Society Place, a nice place to live. If you’re dead.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
As curator of “Scary’s Voices” on Kendall Reviews, an article series reviewing horror podcasts, Sullivan loves listening to all things spooky. If you have a horror podcast recommendation, let her know.
On top of contributing short stories to Kendall Reviews, her fiction has appeared in Don’t Open the Door (2019), It Came From The Darkness (2020), and she acted as an assistant editor for Black Dogs, Black Tales (2020). Other spooky tales and updates on her writing journey can be found on her blog.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan