Hey There Demons: A Review of The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
The end of summer is here; spooky season has begun. As storefronts decorate with leaves and scarecrows all scented like pumpkin spice, there is still time for beach trips and tan lines. And by beach trips I mean sit outside in a kiddie pool because people should not be going to public beaches where a lot of other people gather because Covid-19 is not under control. Please do not go to beaches just because it’s still nice out. Covid-19 is not under control, but the American government cares more about the economy than the heath of its people.
Before you go on another trip to your backyard beach though, you need a beach read. So let me tell you about Darcy Coates’s The Haunting of Blackwood House.
This book follows Mara and Neil, a boyfriend and girlfriend, not fiancés like the back of the book claims. Mara has just bought the titular Blackwood House. She is over the moon as she now has a house to call and make her own after growing up in a house run by scam mediums and then renting shitty apartments since she turned 18. Naturally, Mara can’t escape from the spiritual world as it turns out things go bump in the night at Blackwood House. Ever since its first owner was murdered in the home by the notorious axe murderer Robert Kant, shadow figures roam the halls, the sounds of footsteps on creaky floorboards occur late at night, and it feels that someone is watching Mara and Neil at every hour of the day. But ghosts can’t be real. Mara used her whole childhood to prove to herself ghosts were nothing more than elaborate cons pulled off by scam mediums. But then if ghosts aren’t real…who or what is in her house?
Now, you all know I love a good haunted house tale. I love books that have characters questioning their sanity. I love when characters become so fragile that they’re questioning if someone else is living in their home, if they are imagining terrifying things, or if ghosts do indeed exist. Unfortunately, The Haunting of Blackwood House only uses two out of the three. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but I am slightly disappointed because I love those tropes so much.
Mara never questions her sanity all that much. There is no spiraling out of control trying to figure out if everything is in her head. Haunted house tales where the main character questions their sanity are my favorite types of haunted house stories, so I’m disappointed that I’m not getting that with this book. That being said, Mara having a tight grip on her sanity works for her character. She’s very strong in her beliefs. So much so that when things go bump in the night she’s more concerned about those noises coming from an intruder; which is honestly a lot more terrifying than the house being haunted. There’s a but coming; I’m sure you can feel it.
The idea of there being an intruder in Blackwood House just doesn’t feel fully explored to me.
To better explain that let me first talk about Mara and Neil’s personalities. As I’ve said, Mara is a pretty staunch believer in reality. She’s proven to herself that ghosts aren’t real so everything happening in her home has to be caused by natural causes or, at worst, an intruder. She not necessarily the most open minded character, but she’s also not the husband in the horror movie who keeps saying that nothing is wrong.
Neil on the other hand believes that something is off about the house. He’s very put off by the house, and doesn’t think buying it is a good idea but still supports his girlfriend’s purchase. He isn’t screaming that the house is haunted right from the get go, but he eventually runs out of explanations for what occurs inside its walls. He is definitely the wife in the horror movie who keeps screaming something is wrong with the house.
So when all these unexplainable events begin happening both characters automatically assume some kid on a dare or a homeless person broke into the attic. It's a natural and logical first conclusion. But as odd occurrences continue to happen, the thoughts of an intruder are quickly pushed aside. It literally only takes two to three nights in the house for Neil to jump to the ghost conclusion. These people have literally just moved in, Neil doesn’t even technically live there but he spends most of his time there. Firstly, they do not search or know every single square inch of the house, there could easily be tons of hidden areas, yet outside of taking one look around the house and buying a shitty camera a few days later not much is done to prevent or catch an intruder.
There are few more steps to take before jumping to the ghost conclusion, Neil! No cops are ever called to investigate, no security systems are ever installed, no traps are set to try to catch anyone. There are more logical steps to take before saying the house is haunted. Even I know that and I’m someone who would jump at the chance to call a home haunted. Yeah…I lowkey want to own a haunted house…hi, welcome to Hannah’s oversharing corner.
Anyway, our other main character refuses to believe anything is wrong with the house other than a few things that could easily be fixed with some elbow grease and a few coats of paint. The footsteps are the only thing that Mara can’t explain away, but much like Neil, she doesn’t do anything to catch or prevent a possible intruder from entering her house. And even though she believes there to be an intruder, she isn’t that worried about it. Like, I’m proud of her for being strong in the face of what could possibly be a deadly situation, but she acts like an intruder is no big problem. She has maybe one or two nights where she has close to an anxiety attack, but then she falls asleep for the rest of the night.
The actions these two take just do not seem logical or realistic to me. And this goes past the possible intruder plot line. Mara and Neil constantly argue. Neil doesn’t technically live in Blackwood House for the vast majority of the book, but he spends most of his time there helping Mara fix it up. He’s constantly bringing supplies and food over. He also buys Mara furniture and a generator at one point. Mara is a strong, independent woman who wants to buy her own property; I respect her for that. But every time Neil buys something for his girlfriend she complains to him and the pair begin to argue until they both forgive each other two sentences later.
And this happens for the majority of the book. Scenes are strung together by this couple’s arguments. It’s literally something spooky happens, someone checks out the house, character goes back to sleep, they try to fix up the house, argue, repeat. I found myself skipping the pair’s arguments and skimming until something spooky happened more often than not.
Now, I don’t think this is a bad book by any means. It's well written, but I also don’t think Coates is doing anything groundbreaking with The Haunting of Blackwood House. All the supernatural elements are pretty standard with the haunted rocking chair and attic footsteps. Character development is minimal. It gets repetitive. I’m not sure what else to say.
That’s where the beach read comes back into play. This is not the greatest book in the world, but it was enjoyable to an extent. The ending séance was probably the most interesting part of the book. The description of the spirit world was new and interesting. And there is a bit of a satirical approach with the descriptions and happenings of a séance at the end.
Overall, it’s a quick read, I was able to read it in a day, you may be able to read it in a few hours. So while it is still nice and warm out, break out that kiddie pool, pour yourself a refreshing drink, and enjoy a nice beach read like The Haunting of Blackwood House.