So many stories from Simon Kurt Unsworth’s first collection LOST PLACES (2010) (https://horrordelve.com/2013/12/14/lost-places-by-simon-kurt-unsworth/) stuck with me; it made my decision to buy his new book, QUIET HOUSES, an easy one.
QUIET HOUSES (2011) follows paranormal investigator Richard Nakata as he investigates a series of haunted locations after taking out an ad asking for people who’ve had actual encounters with the supernatural to contact him. He then weeds through more than a hundred messages until he settles on a few that seem legitimate. Nakata’s and his investigations are the through-line that take us through each tale. Some focus on his past while others are a result of his being asked to help prove a murder suspect was influenced by supernatural entities. All are very good.
1. “The Elms, Morecambe” – A man, suffering from the grief of losing his wife, returns to a hotel they used to love for his daughter’s wedding. When he goes back to his room, a slump-shouldered woman comes to his door at a late hour asking if she can turn down his bed. He takes pity on her and agrees. Later, he begins to suspect she’s a ghost. When the hotel closes down soon afterwards, he starts to see her everywhere.
2. “The Merry House, Scale Hall” – A father tells Nakata about the mysterious disappearance of his adult son and shows him a long letter the son sent him before he vanished. In it he describes the strange events surrounding an abandoned house and its possible connection with a little girl who had gone missing from the area. This is a VERY creepy story! The descriptions of the old place are evocative and the horror of what he finds within are fantastic. Highly recommended!
3. “Beyond St. Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham Head” – Nakata follows the directions left on his machine about a natural amphitheater in place beyond a church and graveyard. Once there he begins to notice footpaths forming in the tall grass headed directly toward him but with no one visible reason them. They advance closer whenever he’s not looking at them. He fears what will happen if they reach him and attempts to flee.
4. “The Ocean Grand, North West Coast” – Nakata interviews the lone surviving member of a trio of professional renovators who were sent into a unique, abandoned hotel to assess the condition of the building and its contents and make recommendations to the new owners. The building was designed to be a work of art in-and-of-itself when it was originally constructed, the love child of two artists obsessed with the idea that sex and nature were the supreme forces in our universe. The idea was ingrained in every facet of the hotel from its surrealistic artwork to the design of the carpeting and walls, even down to the shape of the bathroom fixtures. As the three advisers, who had set up shop inside the structure, began uncovering the artwork and learning more about the place, they release something that has been trapped inside these walls during its long years of abandonment.
5. “The Temple of Relief and Ease” – Nakata’s next investigation takes him to the ruined remains of a Victorian-era underground, public lavatory shut-down years ago. In its heyday, it employed disabled veterans of The Great War to work as bathroom attendants. During that time something festered in its dingy environs, growing more frustrated and angry in its solitude.
6. “24 Glasshouse, Glasshouse Estate” – Nakata recounts traumatic events that took place while he and his friend were attempting to “create a ghost” inside a new house to get their PhD’s. This longer tale gives us some details of Nakata’s past and why he’s still haunted by what took place inside 24 Glasshouse. The tale is very suspenseful and filled with subtle supernatural happenings that ramp up to a climatic end.
7. “Stack Farm, Trough of Bowland” – Nakata accompanies the lawyers and jury members of a trial to the abandoned farm where the murder occurred to help prove the suspect’s assertions that some supernatural forces made him commit the crime. Both the house and the barn prove to be haunted by very different, but horrible things.
At the end of the book, Simon tells about the actual locations he used as settings for these stories. He uses real locations that he’s familiar with and inhabits them with hauntings to create these tales. He also mentions some of his influences. It’s a great read for any lover of ghost stories!
Reviewed by Matt Cowan