Sunday, November 18, 2012
The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam
Set in 1995, The House of Lost Souls is the story of Paul Seaton, a disgraced former journalist who's flailing through life fighting constant despair, and assailed by occasional supernatural hijinks, including a tape player that turns itself on, playing the same song. He's contacted by psychiatrist Malcolm Covey and the mysterious Nick Mason, and asked to join a trip to Fischer House.
It turns out that House is a bit of a cousin to Matheson's Hell House, in that Seaton is the only person to ever visit the house and survive. Mason's sister was part of a college experiment in studying the nature of evil and is now in a mental hospital, in danger of going insane. Mason has been having supernatural visions and wants to get to the bottom of it all. What is it in Fischer House that's causing this?
Much of the novel is spent in a flashback to Seaton's first trip there; he's researching Pandora Gibson-Hoare, a 20's photographer who visited the house with a party including Dennis Wheatley, Aleister Crowley, and Hermann Goring. And something horrible went down there, something that left Gibson-Hoare unable to do more work and somehow led to her death in a canal a decade later, malnourished and with her throat slashed. The diary entries that describe her adventures are very atmospheric and one of the best parts of the book. Seaton, thinking he can find some lost photos of hers in the house (he's doing this as a favor to his girlfriend), explores the derelict building, but barely escapes with his life, pursued by some sort of invisible monster.
Seaton eventually has a breakdown, suffers multiple losses, and lives a haunted life until he finally confronts the evil in the house, and puts a tragedy to rest.
How is it? Overall, quite enjoyable, but flawed. The historic sections depicting the decadent roaring 20s party are great, and Seaton's torment is palpable and realistic. However, much is made of some characters who disappear from the narrative, the reasoning behind some of the haunting is vague and strange, and the finale seems rushed with a solution brought in out of nowhere and seeming a bit deus ex machina.
So, read it? Yeah, I'd recommend it, because the good outweighs the bad. And it was Cottam's first novel, so I'm willing to cut him some slack. Just look past the hurried ending and you'll have a good time.