House. Tree. Person. is an unusual thriller, set partially in a grubby flat near the ruins of an abbey where monks had been buried years before. Ali and her husband Marco were forced to downgrade from their spacious home to the flat due to money problems. Their teenage son, Angelo, seems ambivalent, although he likes to spend time hanging out at the ruins for some reason.
The story gets interesting when a body is discovered at the ruins, and Angelo gets caught up in the murder investigation. At the same time, Ali fakes her way into a well-paid beautician job at a mental health institution located on nearby military training grounds. From day one, the place feels weird to Ali — a young woman keeps claiming to have murdered her own father. A bedridden woman, Sylivie, appears catatonic but responds to Ali’s gentle massages and manicures.
Meanwhile, Ali must hold it together while the police question her son and flashbacks of a traumatic past threaten her sanity!
I really like the dark, moody atmosphere McPherson sets up — the ruins of the abbey in the background and the foreboding military grounds with days when staff and patients aren’t allowed to wander, due to practice shots and explosions. I love Ali’s interactions with the patients, the kind way she suggests fixes for their skin and problems; she’s very believable, and her character comes alive the most during these scenes.
At times, the dialogue felt a little “clunky” and even a bit forced; mainly this happened with interactions between Ali and her oddly unpleasant boss, Dr. Ferris. I think the Dr. Ferris character could be fleshed out a bit more. Also, the end felt a little rushed and slightly convoluted, with Ali dashing outside at times and then running into characters in hallways.
But, overall, I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to those who like a good mystery – it’s darker than a typical “cozy” and makes for a satisfying read!
Hello! I’m just posting another snippet from my middle-grade novel, The Rain Catcher, which I hope to publish sometime this century! It’s about an American teenager, Katie, visiting her estranged mother in Scotland for the summer. The day after she arrives, her mom and aunt whisk her away on a bizarre road trip to the Highlands… If you’d like to catch up on the previous snippets, just click on The Rain Catcher under “Categories” in the right-hand column. Thanks!
Aunt Claire heaved on her cigarette and held the smoke in for longer than was safe for any human being. Then she hissed it out between a tiny hole in her teeth, as though savoring the burning smoke feeling.
“Really, Claire!” Mom tutted and coughed. “I don’t know how you can concentrate with all that smoke!”
“Well, who’s driving? Me or you?”
We passed a sign for Dumbarton, and I zonked out. When I woke up, we were driving past a lake, which sparkled bright blue when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.
“Where are we?” I asked. Mom had her eyes closed but wasn’t asleep; she was humming to herself, sort of like she was in a trance.
“Loch Lomond,” Aunt Claire called over her shoulder. She looked more awake now, and was actually smiling, glancing every now and then at the lake. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? You can see why they wrote a song about it.”
Aunt Claire stared at me in the rear view mirror as though I was a complete idiot. “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, of course! Don’t they teach you anything in those American schools?”
I smirked. “Okay, what’s our national anthem?”
“The Star Spangled Banner. Any dunce knows that!”
Maybe my aunt was right about the education system in North Carolina!
The two-lane highway surrounded by trees reminded me of being on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Dad. He has a friend, Jeb, who lives across the border in Virginia, and every so often we’ll visit him. Jeb lets us feed the cows and fish in his pond. He has a mad cocker spaniel who nips the cows’ ankles and yaps at anything that moves.
Suddenly, a truck zipped around the bend in front of us, making the car shake.
“Bloody hell!” Aunt Claire swerved left, too close to the rocky roadside, and there was a horrible scraping sound.
“What was that?” Mom jerked out of her trance.
“Hopefully nothing,” my aunt replied. But now the road felt lumpy, and it was obvious we had a flat tire. We poked along until Aunt Claire spotted a gravel pull-off and parked in a cloud of dust.
Aunt Claire jumped out and ran to the back of the car to inspect the damage. She gave a wail and kicked the tire with her boot. Then Mom and I got out. The wheel was flatter than an iron skillet, and the hubcab was twisted like a crushed Coke can.
“Wow! I’ve never seen a tire so flat,” I said, shaking my head. “You have a spare?”
“Of course I have a spare! I’m not a complete idiot!” Aunt Claire spat.
“We’ll handle it, Katy. Why don’t you go over there?” Mom pointed across the road at some cows.
“And do what?”
“And look at the beautiful Scottish wildlife!” Aunt Claire yelled. “Now, get out of here so we can fix this tire!”
“But do you know how to change a tire? Dad showed me—”
“Go on, Katy.” Mom waved her hands at me as though I was a wasp buzzing around her head..
I backed up. “Fine. I guess you don’t need my help.” Never mind that Dad had showed me how to change not only tires but also the oil in his truck. I was pretty sure my mom and aunt had never changed a tire in their lives.
I crossed the street and stood in front of the wire fence, watching orange shaggy cows with gigantic horns and pink wet noses. They were kind of cute, I had to admit. I pulled a handful of grass out of the earth and held it up for the cows. A smallish one trotted over and sniffed it before huffing and sauntering away again. I laughed.
“Sorry, I don’t have any treats!”
I turned around to see Mom and Aunt Claire leaning over the trunk of the car with their “bums” sticking up in the air, trying to pull out the spare tire. Did they even know what a jack was? They could figure it out for themselves.
Raindrops began to fall, hitting the back of my neck and making me shiver. Just what I needed. I pulled my jacket collar up and folded my arms for warmth. The cows huddled together. Luckily for them, they had their thick coats!
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Mom shouted, “Okay, you can come back now.”
“Gee, thanks!” My knees were stiff with the cold, and I couldn’t stop shivering.
Back in the car, Mom waved a smoking leaf-thing around.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Sage. That dead cat in the boot is a bit pongy.” Aunt Claire started the engine.
“You still didn’t bury it?” I couldn’t believe we’d been stranded for an hour in the countryside and they hadn’t buried the dead cat.
“When was I supposed to bury it, smarty pants?” My aunt spat. “Before or after we struggled with nuts and bolts and a rusty jack? Before or after I ruined my nails?”
“Not my fault,” I said. “You didn’t want my help.”
“You know how to change a tire?” Mom asked, turning around in her seat to look at me properly.
“Of course. Dad showed me how. I tried to tell you before you shooed me across the road to look at cows for an hour.”
Mom and Aunt Claire looked at each other.
“Let’s just get out of here.” My aunt pushed up her sleeves and slammed on the gas, spinning the tires in the gravel as we hurtled back onto the road.
“Don’t get another flat,” I warned her.
Aunt Claire glared at me, and Mom covered her mouth with her hand to hide the smile.