The Burning House by Neil Spring

The Burning Houseby Neil Spring is a story set in a sinister real life mansion called Boleskine House that stands on the shore of Loch Ness. The house was previously owned by Aleister Crowley and is rumoured to have been the site of mysterious sounds and occurrences.

Clara is the main protagonist, a fragile woman who has run away from an abusive marriage to Karl, a counsellor who is an alcoholic brute. She moves far from their home in London to Loch Ness and becomes an estate agent who is tasked with selling Boleskine House, (a particularly difficult task considering its sinister history and rundown state). Previous owners of the house have killed themselves in strange circumstances and the house is believed to be tainted from the association with Crowley’s devil-worshipping satanic rituals.

The story focuses on the house but also the characters that surround it. There is the strange and enigmatic Oswold Catternach who wants to buy the house and live in it. Inghean, (Clara’s boss Gale’s daughter) is a lovely innocent character who is psychic and sees the future before it occurs. There are also other secondary characters who live in the surrounding village but end up getting entangled with the goings on at the mysterious house.

I haven’t really read a book that focused on Satanism before, but have seen Hammer Horror films and this book at first definitely reminded me of these. What was nice to see though was the infusion of the setting into the story. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster is a background motif throughout and plays a part towards the end in a key scene (though the actual monster does not make an appearance). Beliefs from Scottish folklore such as the bean nighe, (an elderly washerwoman who foretells death) appear at certain points during the story and add a nice sinister touch to the narrative.

Overall, The Burning House is a good read and made me scared! So perhaps don’t read it just before you fall asleep as I did, unless you are made of sterner stuff! The book is definitely worth exploring though, especially if you like scary stories or unexplained mysteries with a real life element to them.

The Truth Waits by Susanna Beard

The Truth Waits by Susanna Beard is an enthralling read that highlights a very important issue – human sex trafficking from the Baltic States. The story centres around a uniquely drawn protagonist, Anna, (a successful businesswoman in her forties) who is in Lithuania to visit a clothing factory that supplies her London based fashion company.

The opening scene is vividly drawn, the salty scent of the Baltic sea intermingles with the tang from the resinous pine forests. You can imagine the serenity and beauty of the scene which is then juxtaposed with Anna’s discovery of the murdered girl found alone on the beach. The girl is Margaryta, sixteen years old and wearing only a skimpy dress. Anna becomes involved in her story pushing to get justice for her. The story is important for highlighting sex trafficking, making it known that this is an international problem that affects women across many different states and countries.

Anna is a character for whom her career is her life but she really evolves during this story. She meets Will, a twenty-eight year old journalist and starts to reevaluate her life. A family tragedy makes her realise that work is not everything and that she longs for a child. We learn more about Anna’s life and the reason why she is so guarded and unwilling to trust people. Anna is also extremely tenacious when wanting to find out what has happened to Margaryta and we discover the reasons why she has become so drawn into Margaryta’s story.

The scenes set in Lithuania are very well evoked. There is a noir-ish feel to the story at times which we see in Anna’s scenes in the nightclub and her encounters with the surly Lithuanian Police. There is a real sense of uneasiness that runs through the story. You are never sure who is telling the truth to Anna and who is lying.

Overall, this is a uniquely compelling thriller that brings attention to the real human cost of people trafficking and deserves to be read by many.

Legend Press are excellent at publishing unique fiction about important issues such as PTSD, trafficking, euthanasia and complex family relationships. These stories are compelling reads that highlight the important issues and thus help to increase awareness and understanding of these issues. So Legend Press should be applauded for publishing these stories and let us hope that they light a beacon for other publishing houses to follow. For a glance at their excellent titles, take a look here.