Do you know what links Carrie Fisher, Vincent Van Gogh and Ranald McGhie? No idea?You’re probably asking yourself who Ranald McGhie is? Never mind what links them all. Well they all suffer from Bipolar Disorder, a mental affliction, which according to the Health Service Executive in Ireland affects 1 in 100 people. Researching a list of people with bipolar disorder for this article, draws up at least 59 other well-known faces, currently and historically, who may have been affected, including Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens.
As for Ranald Mcghie, he’s the central character in this month’s book. Its “The House of Spines” by Michael J. Malone. Published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk) at the end of October- Halloween to be exact.
Ranald is a jobbing text book writer in his home town of Glasgow, who has never really come to terms with deaths of his parents and as result of his condition has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. One day he is summoned to the offices of a large law firm in the city. There he discovers that he’s been left something in the will of his great grandfather on his mother’s side, someone he knows very little about, due his mother being mysteriously disowned by the family. His inheritance is Newton Hall, an expansive old pile in a salubrious suburb of the city. It appears that Ranald’s great grandfather had him watched from birth, with every intention of making him the sole beneficiary and guardian of this property and its contents. The said contents are books, hundreds of them, filling every nook and cranny. From the moment Ranald arrives in the house, he is in awe of what greets him, whole wardrobes of fine clothes in his exact size, a middle aged married couple who act as house keeper and gardener, a pool and a garage housing a couple of expensive cars – which would be fine if he’d ever learned to drive.
Ranald decides to use the house as a fresh start, maybe even a way to rehabilitate his mental instability, so he goes off his meds, starts swimming and using the gym in the house. Then strange things start happening. He is seduced by a number of local women within hours of arriving at the house. He also starts having vivid dreams involving a mysterious woman and repeatedly sleep walking to a lift in the house along with a strange unnerving feeling about the place. If this wasn’t enough, he is then visited by two estranged cousins who seem to have ulterior motives for visiting him that may involve selling the property to a developer. Can Ranald discover the identity of the woman in the dreams, discover the mystery behind his mother’s falling out with her family and keep the property from the clutches of his relations? Or is it all in his mind…
One Bi-polar sufferer says of their condition ”.. this mind of mine is deeper than most people care to swim…”. If you throw in the addition of a vast lonely house and you get to the setting and ambience this story is trying to achieve.
When you start reading the book, the house comes across in Malone’s descriptions as a
cross between Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle and the Walt Disney castle, with a bit of Hogwarts merged in for good measure. It’s a vast palace with many wings and floors, as well as towers, pools and large imposing book lined studies. Something a lotto millionaire would build on a whim as a result losing the run of himself. It basically comes across as a folly, especially when you consider the only occupant is a troubled divorcee.
I initially loved the feel-good factor from the book as we followed Ranald on his voyage of discovery around the house and the amazing things he finds at every turn in the house. The numerous bedrooms with fine linen and furnishings. The pool, well placed easy reading chairs and couches placed liberally about the house so that the occupant could read where or wherever they felt inclined. It has a real fairy-tale feel to it.
But then when the spirit or the assumption that there is something paranormal attached to the house, starts to get involved and this shortly followed by the arrival of the two cousins, a well-heeled scotch loving criminal lawyer and a his strangely quiet and reserved sister. Along with the straight laced smarmy lawyer who acts as executor, things start to follow a very formulaic Disney-esque route. We were only short of an evil stepmother and a poisoned apple, although later events involving Ranald being blackmailed into being prescribed an increased dosage of his meds are a modern version.
The Bipolar aspect of Ranald’s character, lends itself to the story and helps us to see him for the damaged person he is and how vulnerable someone is his condition can be, when they come into contact with strong minded and devious characters. Overall there is no real sense that Newton hall is haunted, just the creepy feeling left by the fact that Ranald’s grandfather was stalking him and that most of the things that our hero, experiences are probably down to his stopping medication.
This is Scottish author and poet Michael Malone’s (@michaeljmalone1) sixth novel, his others include: Carnegie’s Call, The Guillotine’s Choice, The Taste of Malice, Beyond Rage, The Bad Samaritan, Dog Fight and A Suitable Lie. Malone is a regular reviewer for the crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com and in a previous life was a regional sales manager for Faber & Faber.
The book is not as scary as it is portrayed and if you think Ranald is up against the house, his mental frailties and the conniving manipulative machinations of his relatives on his own, you are wrong. He has in his corner his ex-wife and a former neighbour.
So, if you are looking for a spine tingling, nerve jangling, bump in the night book. This isn’t it.