I should preface this review with a confession. I am not a huge fan of anything haunted house related. Sure, I checked out The Haunting of Hill House and even managed to enjoy bits of it. But the rest of the time, set anything in an old house with possible ghosts and I’ll avoid it. So, when I was given the option to review Twelve Nights At Rotter House by J.W. Ocker and saw it was set in a haunted house, I figured it was time to put my own ghosts to rest and dive in.
I can honestly say, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The premise of Twelve Nights At Rotter House is straightforward:
Felix Allsey is a travel writer with a keen eye for the paranormal, and he’s carved out a unique, if only slightly lucrative, niche for himself in nonfiction; he writes travelogues of the country’s most haunted places, after haunting them himself.
When Thomas Ruth, Felix’s oldest friend and fellow horror film obsessive, joins him on the project, the two dance around a recent and unspeakably painful rough-patch in their friendship, but eventually fall into their old rhythms of dark humor and movie trivia. That’s when things start going wrong …. Felix realizes the book he’s writing, and his very state of mind, is tilting from nonfiction into all out horror, and the shocking climax answers a question that’s been staring these men in the face all along: In Rotter House, who’s haunting who?
As I’ve mentioned, I don’t like haunted house anything, yet I read that description and was sold. Want to know what sold it to me? Dark humour and movie trivia. I’ve been on a HUGE Grady Hendrix kick lately, and the thought of something that was full of dark humour and some movie trivia really sold the idea of the book to me.
It also helps that from the first sentence, you are 100% on this journey with Felix. Not only is he a fully fleshed out character, but J.W. Ocker makes him very accessible to the reader, even more so when Thomas comes onto the scene. The relationship between the two is painfully real. I’ve had friends like that. I’ve still got some friends like that. Every good horror story needs a strong beating heart. The relationship between Felix and Thomas is where the true strength of the story lies.
At first glance the relationship between Felix and Thomas is a long lasting one, but an event the previous year has put a strain on the once-perfect friendship. Within the walls of Rotter House, the two hope to rebuild and strengthen their bonds. The depth of friendship and the pain that these two suffered kept me going back to the book. It was a real journey as a reader watching Felix and Thomas try to mend their fractured relationship.
A good haunted house tale needs, first and foremost, a house to be set in, and this is another area in which J.W. Ocker excels. Rotter House is everything you would want from a haunted house. From its sordid past to the colour of the curtains, there’s very little detail that J.W. Ocker leaves out. In some writers’ hands this might feel like an info dump, but the history of Rotter House is weaved through the tale with the same level of affection that he treats Felix and Thomas. In many respects, Rotter House is the other main character in the story. I enjoyed the setting so much that I would have actually read more about the house. I’d happily take a book of short stories for each of the murders that have taken place over the house’s dark history.
The story itself is built on solid foundations with a strong heart. I might not love haunted houses, but I really enjoyed this tale. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. When the dust settled on the final words, I have to admit I was a little shocked. Whilst not the largest of books, there is enough to keep you going, and the book calls out for a re-read further down the line to see how everything lined up to the finale.
If you’re looking for a story to keep you guessing until the end with a few good scares then I can’t recommend Twelve Nights At Rotter House enough. It just goes to show that your tastes can change over time. Now I’ll never forget J.W. Ocker as the writer who brought the scares back to haunted houses.