The Siren and the Specter

Review From User :

I've loved the horror genre for a very long time, and one constant in that love has been my relentless affection for haunted house stories. More than any other horror theme in the industry, I think, I am a sucker for a spooky, old farmhouse with bumps in the night, ghosts in the attic, and handprints on the window panes. I was immediately intrigued when I first came across the synopsis for this book, and I am pleased to report that it did not disappoint in any way.

Most dwellings are as ephemeral as their inhabitants. Most homes are as characterless as a harvested cornfield, with its mud and discard stalks.
But not the Alexander house.
Right off the bat, Janz's writing is spectacular at setting the mood; I was only a couple of chapters in when I told a friend that I already knew I was going to love this book, because "something about his writing just unsettles me," and wow, did I hit that one on the nose early. The atmosphere is fantastic from start to finish, and I constantly felt like I was right there in the Alexander house with David. Luckily, the scenery isn't the only thing Janz immerses you in-there's legitimate terror between these pages, and I adored every damn second of it.

This would be a good time to tell you that I do not rattle easily when it comes to horror books or films. I've been a lover of the genre since I was five years old, and at this point, it's just not common for stories to get under my skin. That said, there's a scene in this book that I was reading alone at night, while everyone else was sleeping, and I literally put the book down in the middle of the chapter and went to bed. I know horror is subjective, and maybe Janz's descriptions just push my buttons just right, but I can't remember the last time I noped out of a book like that.

"Homes have personalities, don't they Some are sullen, some are cheerful. This one-" he nodded, "-is less predictable."
Of course, the book isn't all spooky scenes, but it never drags in the moments in between. I found myself genuinely invested in the mystery surrounding the region, including the bizarro sex fiend neighbors, the hilariously snarky and no-nonsense sheriff Harkless, and the lovely woman whose motives don't quite add up.

I rooted for David despite the fact that he's definitely an "unlikable narrator"-he's pretentious and skeptical, but it works so well for this story; as a horror fan, you're left to sit on the sidelines and watch him slowly come to terms with what is happening, and there's almost a sick sort of satisfaction in the moment he begins to truly realize he can't explain everything away with science and logic. Despite the shortcomings that led to his former love's suicide, I even caught myself feeling a bit defensive over him when the people of the town tried to accuse him of things.

How ironic would it be, he mused, if David were to go missing and the only record of his stay here was a breathless recording of his weird experience upstairs He would become an even truer successor to John Weir: another skeptic claimed by the spirits he was attempting to debunk.
There's not much else I can say about this story without drifting into spoiler territory, so I'll leave it at this: Jonathan Janz is a fantastic writer who deserves to go far, and I cannot wait for my next opportunity to be terrified by his deliciously twisted storytelling.

Content warnings for suicide, sexual assault, ableism, and child abuse (all addressed/challenged within the text).

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Flame Tree Press for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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When David Caine, a celebrated skeptic of the supernatural, is invited by an old friend to spend a month in “the most haunted house in Virginia,” he believes the case will be like any other. But the Alexander House is different. Built by a 1700s land baron to contain the madness and depravity of his eldest son, the house is plagued by shadows of the past and the lingering taint of bloodshed. David is haunted, as well. For twenty-two years ago, he turned away the woman he loved, and she took her life in sorrow. And David suspects she’s followed him to the Alexander House.

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