In this old-fashioned gothic ghost story, Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg, I found myself drawn in. The story carried well all the elements that one would expect from this type of ghost story. Elements that drew me in included family secrets, hidden rooms, apparitions, and the occult.
The story begins with Ethan Gravesend visiting Nightmare House to claim his inheritance. In doing so, he inadvertently unlocks long forgotten and haunted secrets that are buried within in a sinister mansion and awakens its fury or dormant spirits.
The author Douglas Clegg has cleverly woven a chilling tapestry that tells a story that combines hallucinations, poltergeists, and manifestations. The protagonist, Ethan is the grandson of the curator, enters the story completely unaware of the haunting fate that awaits him. His senses are tormented by visions of occult rituals and the woman’s spirit trapped within the house.
Right from the opening passage it is foreshadowing what is to come:
“My dreams are there, now. You can go in any room, any secret chamber, and you will find them—shadows of dreams, like smoke from a fire that has only just died.
They are no longer with me—I do not dream. I live in stark reality.
In a harsh sun.
Harrow took my dreams away.”
I have to say that my unexpected favorite part of the book did not involve Maggie or Harrow House or any of the haunted family secrets. It is a scene that is actually outside of the Harrow House. It is the scene where Ethan ventures out of Harrow House to visit the Watch Point pub. In this scene some of the local residence of the town gather around a unmarked crate, consuming its contents out of coffee mugs. In this moment they declare it “The best sassyfrass tea yet!” We know that the contents are ale, and the declaration is for a man named Pocket, the local constable. This charade necessary because alcohol is illegal as in this story was told during prohibition.
Pocket becomes a key character later in the story when Ethan finds a secret room in his house containing an entombed skeleton inside. Later we find out that Pocket knows much more about Ethan’s family than Ethan had anticipated. Pocket tells his story over a cigar while they venture to examine the contents of the locked room.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this story and how it was told, I felt that it was just a regurgitation of many previously told ghost stories. There was nothing new here. The same old stuff. At least it was a fun read.