Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: horror, mystery, paranormal
Series: Holy Terrors #1
Published by Severn House on February 6, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Six people locked in a haunted hall . . . Cameras watching their every move . . . And then someone dies . . . This first in a spine-tingling new paranormal mystery series from New York Times bestselling British fantasy author Simon R. Green will make you doubt your judgement - and believe in ghosts!
Welcome to Spooky Time, the hit TV ghost-hunting show where the horror is scripted . . . and the ratings are declining rapidly. What better way to up the stakes - and boost the viewership - than by locking a select group of Z-list celebrities up for the night in The Most Haunted Hall in England (TM) and live-streaming the 'terrifying' results?
Soon Alistair, a newly appointed Bishop, actress Diana, medium Leslie, comedian Toby and celebrity chef Indira are trapped inside Stonehaven town hall, along with June, the host and producer of the show. The group tries to settle in and put on a good show, but then strange things start happening in their hall of horrors.
What is it about this place - and why is the TV crew outside not responding? Are they even on air?
Logical Alistair attempts to keep the group's fears at bay and rationalise the odd events, but there are things that just can't be explained within reason . . . Can he stop a cold-blooded would-be killer - even if it's come from beyond the grave?
This locked-room mystery with a paranormal twist is classic Simon R. Green, featuring his trademark humour and imagination, irresistible characters, and thoroughly entertaining plotting.
Four strangers locked in a haunted building overnight with two TV “personalities”, their every action and emotion covered by hidden cameras, all in pursuit of a payday that’s not going to be nearly as generous as their agents led them to expect.
Sounds like the perfect setup for a “Reality TV” program. Or a joke. Or, in this particular case, a joke of a reality TV show that is desperate to recapture the market share it lost much longer ago than its presenter is willing to admit. Or allow.
Put another way, a has-been comedian, a wannabe almost-celebrity chef, an outspoken bishop and an actress whose career isn’t what it used to be, walk into a haunted town hall to film an episode of ‘Spooky Time!’ with its resident medium AND its indefatigable host.
There should be a punchline coming for that joke. And there certainly is for at least some of the participants. At least for the ones that survive the night.
Anyone who has any illusions left about the exact amount of ‘reality’ present in a so-called reality TV show needs to check those illusions before the first page – because they’ll all be spoiled although the plot of the book certainly is not.
From the moment the time-locks ominously click shut and the lights start to go out, it’s clear to the participants that something has gone even wronger than they expected after seeing the dilapidated state of the place they’re supposed to be spending the night. But in the gloomy, shadowed and downright spooky atmosphere, it’s all too easy to chalk up their fears to the idea that something supernatural might be stalking their number.
But as the Bishop says to the Actress, that doesn’t add up. It’s clear, at least to him, that they are being led astray by their own guilts and fears. And even though there is an entirely different sort of ‘leading astray’ that the Actress would prefer to do to the Bishop, she’s willing to trust him to see her through this long and particularly dark night.
Escape Rating B-: I ended up with a LOT of mixed feelings about this one, some of which may have to do with having no love or even liking for so-called reality TV. (Although, honestly, if the author has any love for that genre it’s a particularly twisted version of it.)
It’s clear from the outset that all of the so-called ‘supernatural’ events are planned and prepared, that the show is on its last legs and the guests were chosen for their gullibility, their expendability, or both. And because they were relatively cheap – just like the all-night rental of the supposed ‘Most Haunted Hall in England.’
Particularly as, in spite of all the horror implications of the blurb and the Goodreads genre assignment, the title of the series to follow has it right, The Holy Terrors is a mystery and not horror at all.
Which means that the reader’s enjoyment of and/or absorption in this story relies on either getting caught up in the mystery or being charmed by its characters – many of whom are not charming at all.
Although the Bishop and the Actress certainly are, and their increasing charm with each other does help carry readers along. Which is a good thing, because ‘whodunnit’ was obvious long before the big reveal – complete with a bit of good old-fashioned villain monologuing – at the end.
As the first book in a series that looks like it will follow the adventures of the Bishop and the Actress as they have more mysterious and possibly spooky adventures, there’s a fair amount of heavy lifting to be done that doesn’t feel like it’s completely done by the book’s end.
Because I’m not totally sure what the newly christened “Holy Terrors” will actually be doing in their future adventures – beyond that they’ll be doing them together. It’s not clear even at the end of this book and I’ve been guessing throughout.
Not that I won’t ‘tune back in’ to find out when the next book appears. I just hope it’s a bit more clear by then AND that it doesn’t sidle quite so close to the territory the author has already occupied by Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny Belcourt.
One final note to say thanks for the memories, the facepalm and the headslap – not necessarily in that order and definitely not as the Actress said to the Bishop – which is what all of the above are referencing.
This entire story – and quite possibly the series intended to follow – is part of a long-running British tradition of jokes and/or clichés (your mileage may vary on which they are) of double entendres that begin or end with “as the bishop said to the actress” or the other way around. Phrases that take on a sexual overtone, undertone, or alternate meaning by adding that phrase that either way is roughly equivalent to a joke ending, “that’s what she (or he) said”.
It niggled at me through the whole book as something familiar, but I was caught up just enough in the mystery at hand and the bell didn’t ring until AFTER I finished the book. Because that phrase, in popular parlance in British in the 1930s, was one that Simon Templar, The Saint, used frequently and often in the original books by Leslie Charteris – of which I read as many as I could find back in the dark ages after seeing bits of the TV series starring Roger Moore in syndication way back when.
I don’t remember that phrase from the TV series, but in the books, Templar used it frequently, often and as intended. Honestly, I’m not even sure I was quite old enough to get the double entendres at the time I read the books, but the whole thing stuck in my memory and thereby hangs that facepalm and headslap.
Because if this series continues, the whole entire thing has the potential to be a series of investigations where the Bishop and the Actress are going to have a LOT to say to each other. And quite possibly do with and to each other between solving mysteries.