You might not be able to judge a book by its cover but a good opening line guarantees my attention. “Somewhere along the way, Mary lost her religion.” That’s the way Andrew Taylor begins the tale of The Leper House, an atmospheric journey into the supernatural.
I’d previously read and greatly enjoyed Andrew Taylor’s novella Broken Voices, a ghost story set in a school in some indeterminate past. The Leper House feels more contemporary but equally timeless. Again a ghost is involved but these are not the ghosts that emerge from graves to rattle their bones. Rather they are dark shadows that cross the landscape Taylor has created. In Broken Voices and in The Leper House the ghosts seem more like spiritual anomalies drawing people towards events that will remain both poignant and inexplicable. At least that’s what I’d say if I were writing a literary essay.
To put it simply, Andrew Taylor has written another excellent ghost story. It begins with a funeral, Mary’s, the woman in the opening line. But Mary isn’t the ghost in this story. The protagonist is her brother, our unnamed narrator, who on the way home from the funeral has time to consider the past, his sister and a photograph.
Taylor is very good at creating layers of apprehension. Bad things accumulate in small homeopathic doses: road works, rain, a broken umbrella and a puncture. All conspire to keep the anxious narrator from completing his journey to the warmth of safety of home.
“I had forgotten how dark it can be in the country,” he says. He’s lost, as in a dream, and as the reader is already aware, the cloud of death, of something not quite right, has somehow followed him from the funeral.
And here appears the Leper House of the title. Is the house haunted? If only things were so simple. Taylor continues to keep us guessing. Perhaps guessing is not the right word. This is no whodunit. Tantalised might be better. Our narrator is lost, far from home, and we already know that in ghost stories things do not turn out well. And yet, as with every good ghost story, we push ourselves on, joining the narrator on what might well be a very dark journey indeed. Darker than the rain swept countryside ever could be.
At last, more characters. Friendly too. But the isolation isn’t lessened. The narrator’s mobile has no signal. The house no working phone. The narrator notes, “Gradually there stole over me a sense of disconnectedness.” The story follows many of the tropes of supernatural fiction but retains its fascination, pulling the curious reader in to territory where the only thing that is really familiar is that feeling of dread you get from reading ghostly fiction.
The events that take place in The Leper House are vivid and haunting. Almost dream-like. And the ending gives pause for thought. I will say no more about it because you should experience the narrator’s adventure for yourself and enjoy the excellent writing of its author, Andrew Taylor.
The Leper House is available as a Kindle Single from Amazon.