The Children On The Hill by Jennifer McMahon

1978: two children live with their grandmother who is the head of an famous cutting edge asylum, when a young, traumatized girl is brought to live with them and their world starts to unravel. 2019: One of the children has grown up, now calls herself Lizzy, and is a podcaster who searches for cryptids, when she hears about young girls going missing, and thinks her sister may be behind it. What’s happening to the missing girls? What really happened at the asylum all those years ago? And which sibling is Lizzy?

For me, this book was a real delight. I love creepy stories set in old houses, and I love asylum stories and family secrets. So it’s right up my alley. Add to that, the book references classic monster movies and also horror classics, most especially Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and you have my undivided attention. The book has been called “genre defying”, I wouldn’t say that that’s really true. It’s a mystery thriller with horror themes, and it’s structured with some chapters being now-ish and some being in the past, with a few chapters from a fictional book about the asylum thrown in.

The atmosphere this book creates is really good. It’s spooky, it’s intriguing. It feels a bit like Stranger Things sometimes, or even like an RL Stine book for grown ups (I mean that as a compliment). It has some horror classic tropes, like a spooky basement or kids needing to break in somewhere to get files, but it also has some more adult ideas and themes, so it feels nostalgic but also fresh.

The book is well paced, with both plotlines moving along nicely and it doesn’t have filler chapters with lame misdirects like some books do. The chapters are short and sweet, but the characters feel real and well rounded. For me, it was a real page turner. It’s not a super heavy book, there’s some dark stuff, it’s spooky, but it’s not overly gory. About what you’d expect in thriller or crime territory, rather than the blood and guts you sometimes get served in horror.

The ending was also not bad. I think thrillers, and often horror as well, feels like it has to have a big twist or two and a reveal. This does satisfy that need, I think it would feel odd if it didn’t, but while a lot of thrillers try to go big and have some very unlikely and unrealistic ending, this felt like it fit the plot and the themes really well.

Over all, I may have made this sound like a light read, that’s because I think it will please thriller and mystery fans, not just horror lovers. I really like that this book set out to be spooky and intriguing, and it really delivered for me. Sometimes lately I’ve read books that have a great premise and the author didn’t seem to know where to go with the plot after that. They had a hook to get you in, but sort of faltered so much along the way. This one really doesn’t do that, and I was really pleasantly surprised by how assured it was the whole way through.

Read It If: you liked to watch classic black and white monster movies when you were a kid. This is spooky and fun, but also delivers on the dark mystery and pacing as well. Would read more by this author.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the ARC of this book for review.

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