Jack and Ali are looking for a fresh start and so move to Rosalind House, a commune on the site of an old Victorian asylum deep in the fens on the east coast of England. The asylum itself was built on land that had been used for witch trials and has a troubled history, with inhabitants of the nearby village viewing the place with suspicion.

Rosalind House was founded by Smeaton Dunsmore, who grew up on a commune himself and then travelled the world honing his religious and philosophical outlook. Upon his return to England he founded his own commune, which while not overtly religious, embraces a new age-like spirituality of self-sufficiency and eschewing the modern world as much as possible. The residents of Rosalind House are all damaged to some extent, or waifs and strays, people who have found the modern world very difficult for one reason or another and thus have chosen to turn their back on it.

Jack is a former police officer who worked in child protection, while Ali is a former psychiatric nurse. Smeaton is normally very particular about who he lets come to live in Rosalind House and there are all manner of vetting and procedures he makes prospective residents go through, but he has made an exception for Jack and Ali as they offered a large amount of money. While the commune is largely self-sufficient, there were expenses that had to be paid, such as for a new boiler, and so this once he had given in. While the other residents are wary of this, they have accepted it. But when Jack and Ali move in they quickly find it hard to gel with the other residents and there’s things about the way they behave which raise other residents’ concerns.

In particular, Angela’s suspicions are raised. She’s a young woman who has lived in Rosalind House for a while. A believer in the paranormal, she is always trying to investigate the hauntings and supernatural phenomena that many believe afflict the property. She soon develops strong suspicions about the new residents.

The Lingering is a gothic horror/psychological thriller. It’s a good mix and one that works well in this creepy and sinister tale. I started this book expecting the commune itself to be villain, that Smeaton Dunsmore would turn out to be a Jim Jones/David Koresh type figure, but I’m not giving away too much to say this isn’t the case (we learn within the first few chapters that events will surround the new arrivals).

The characterisation in this novel is very strong, though we really only get to know Jack and Ali, Angela and Smeaton. The rest of the supporting cast are just that, and it will be interesting if see if the author ever returns to Rosalind House or its characters for there’s enough here to give her a rich seam of storytelling. The plotting is deft, and this is a tale that really is very unsettling. A very good read.

James Pierson 5/5

The Lingering by SJI Holliday
Orenda Books 9781912374533 pbk Nov 2018