There’s a ghost in the White house…
Based on historical people and events, this book tells the story of Franklin and Jane Pierce, whose son Bennie died in a train accident just before Franklin took office. There have been various stories of ghost sightings in the White House (the ghost has been called “The Thing”) and of seances conducted there, so the book takes all this as it’s starting point.
Largely centering on Jane, who is made to seem fragile and intense, malevolent and naive, the book creates a wonderfully dark, bleak atmosphere. Civil War is looming. The era is one of socially ingrained mourning rituals and a fascination with seances and spiritualism. Coupled with the pillars and empty halls of the White House, and you have a great setting for a work of Gothic fiction.
I liked that the story got going within the first few pages. Pyper isn’t messing around. His story reaches out and grabs you in the first few pages, with the fatal train accident. It also introduces us to the state of the Pierce marriage and the strange entity that is Jane’s special friend, called Sir. The story builds on these relationships really well, so that there’s always plenty of plot and intriguing things that keep you wanting to know more. I really like how dark this book is. I find a lot of horror is spooky, shall we say, but doesn’t get under your skin. This had me getting a few shivers down my spine. That’s partly because I love a haunted house story, and anything in the Victorian Era, with it’s obsession with seances and contacting the dead. (The Fox sisters make an appearance here, which was also really great)
I was wary going in to this book. Anything set in the White House feels really loaded in the current political climate. Without spoiling anything for you, the book loosely says that what happens in the microcosm of the building, is mirrored in the macrocosm of America as a whole. It’s not directly speaking about current events or making a political stance exactly, and it’s not preachy, but you’re sort of always aware of this metaphor, and it feels a little on the nose somehow. It didn’t spoil the book for me, because I was enjoying the atmosphere and winding plot so much. And perhaps not being an American, there may be a message or point being made that I’m not aware of.
It’s a really swiftly paced book, and there’s plenty of really scary imagery and events. (Keep your eye on that toy soldier) I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this book because of the location, but I found myself turning pages and the hairs on the back of my neck going up as I read it. It’s a satisfyingly spooky read, even if a little flawed. It made me want to read more by this author to see if he’s always this good.
Read It If: You like haunted house stories. The location might or might not appeal to you, but Andrew Pyper writes so well. A real page turning spooky read, though I could have done without its metaphor.