Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam

by
Non-series

St. Martin's Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-54432-4 (0312544324)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-54432-4 (9780312544324)
Publication Date: July 2009
List Price: $24.99

Review: For the most part British author F.G. Cottam’s debut novel is a masterful blend of mystery, history, demons and the evil deeds that humans do on their own or at others’ bidding. Even the parts that stumble a bit will be forgiven for the overall entertainment that the gripping story provides.

The suspense begins with the dribbled out details of the funeral of a suicide resulting from a mid-1990’s college field trip of four students to the derelict house of Klaus Fischer, a former Nazi sympathizer. The others on the visit, including the sister of protagonist Nick Mason, an Irish covert operations agent, have been left insensible and Nick is scrambling to find out why. Paul Seaton, a fact-checker at London’s British Museum and with his own haunted memories of the Fischer house, is soon enlisted to assist Mason. And as the two work to resolve it, they tell their stories of their lives against a backdrop of unravelling history that dates back through journals and diaries to the 1920s and involves rituals of human sacrifice, the kidnapping of a child, the murder of a famous fashion photographer, Pandora Gibson-Hoare, and appearances by English occultist Aleister Crowley, the “fat aviator” German Herman Goring, the American pugilist Harry Greb in a role he would never have imagined, and numerous ghosts and demons engaged in everything from singing and dancing to duelling, murder and mayhem. Even the Fischer house resonates with the spirits of its lost souls - the “shysters like Crowley and Fischer and their assemblage of misfits and freaks”- and Mason and Seaton unite, one in a final battle against opponents that “stank of feral rot,” and the other in a fatal card game in which, “Everybody cheats” to win a billiard-ball bag of skeletal bones.

Cottam’s sombre style is fully appropriate for the tone, plot and atmosphere of his story, and although several of his characters deteriorate into mere spectres of themselves, they never appear as caricatures. Of particular note as well is his use of recurring counterpoint references to the aptly chosen and memorably haunting musical refrains of the day that bedevil Seaton – and the reader – with their inexplicable starts and stops. In all, the novel is a haunting one in more ways than one.

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (mw_cunningham@telus.net) for contributing his review of The House of Lost Souls and to St. Martin's Press for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved — Reprinted with Permission

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Just weeks after four students cross the threshold of the derelict Fischer House, one of them has committed suicide and the other three are descending into madness.

Nick Mason’s sister is one of them. To save her, Nick must join ranks with Paul Seaton—the only person to have visited the house and survive. But Paul is a troubled man, haunted by otherworldly visions that even now threaten his sanity.

Desperate, Nick forces Paul to go back into the past, to the secret journal of beautiful photographer Pandora Gibson-Hoare and a debauched gathering in the 1920s, and to the dark legacy of Klaus Fischer—master of the unspeakable crime and demonic proceedings that have haunted the mansion for decades.

Because now, the Fischer House is beckoning, and some old friends have gathered to welcome Paul back ...

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