Twelve Nights At Rotter House: J.W. Ocker
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Turner (14 Nov. 2019)
Felix has a feeling that his next nonfiction book, Thirteen Nights at Rotter House, is going to be the one to launch him into financial success. He invites his friend, Thomas, to join an investigation of this haunted house so the resulting book will be balanced between his own skepticism and Thomas’s beliefs in the paranormal. But that’s not the only motive. A year ago, their friendship was broken, and Felix is desperate to repair the rift.
Since the title of the actual book is Twelve Nights at Rotter House, we know something is going to prevent Felix from reaching his final intended evening in the location, and that was the only thing that kept me reading the novel through to the end. Slow burns are one thing, but this book is more like watching a glacier melt, ending in a small calving. I don’t mind a slow burn approach to horror, but there needs to be a buildup of tension in the overall plot and insight into the characters. What disappointed me most was some of the passages, especially early on, were well written with unique perspectives and descriptions, however as the story continued there was a lot of repetition of phrases and actions.
Layered with terrific atmosphere, the first two nights in Rotter House (ending with chapter seven) introduces the characters, describes the supremely creepy setting, and details some of the bizarre and horrific deaths of the home’s past. It produced that wonderful feeling of settling in for an intense ride. However, after the initial set up the novel stagnates until around the ninth night (chapter twenty-three). That’s not to say nothing happens in the story. Events do occur, like the use of an Ouija board, porcelain dolls seeming to have moved on their own, and disembodied screams piercing the night. The problem is the approach to the actions. For example, several times Felix says something like “If I were writing a piece of fiction, I wouldn’t dream of using the overused concept of [Ouija board, unexplained noises, a character as a ghost, etc.], but since this is nonfiction I will.” Having him make fun of tired horror motifs once or twice would feel natural coming from his skeptical stance, but the story relies on this response too often. Also, when something does happen, the characters discuss the occurrences to death, dissolving the tension.
As for the character development, even though the story is told from Felix’s first-person perspective, very little is revealed about him. There’s ample room through the novel to dig deeper into his innermost thoughts and his past, to create a bond between the reader and character, and by not establishing this connection I was left in a state of apathy. This is one of those books where too much information is held back from the reader as an attempt to intensify the twist ending, but instead creates a void through the middle.
Twelve Nights At Rotter House
Felix Allsey is a travel writer with a keen eye for the paranormal, and he’s carved out a unique, if only slightly lucrative, niche for himself in nonfiction; he writes travelogues of the country’s most haunted places, after haunting them himself.
When he convinces the owner of the infamous Rotterdam Mansion to let him stay on the premises for two weeks, he believes he’s finally found the location that will bring him a bestseller. As with his other gigs, he sets rules for himself: no leaving the house for any reason, refrain from outside contact, and sleep during the day.
When Thomas Ruth, Felix’s oldest friend and fellow horror film obsessive, joins him on the project, the two dance around a recent and unspeakably painful rough-patch in their friendship, but eventually fall into their old rhythms of dark humor and movie trivia. That’s when things start going wrong: screams from upstairs, figures in the thresholds, and more than what should be in any basement. Felix realizes the book he’s writing, and his very state of mind, is tilting from nonfiction into all out horror, and the shocking climax answers a question that’s been staring these men in the face all along: In Rotter House, who’s haunting who?
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.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
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