Featuring about as many tropes as a horror fan could gather from the harbinger of a title, The House On Cold Hill mixes some intricate and interesting cross-genre storylines with well-worn passages that provide intrigue, but not outright scares.
Cold Hill House is an old mansion latticed in mystery that has just been bought by a young family. While likeable, the central characters are all somewhat stock types, though extensive attention to detail brings minor characters to life in a manner that develops the landscape of the story as well as situating it as a particularly English novel in the manner of his other work.
While it is primarily a character study rather than a thriller, the story’s build-up is severely hampered by underdeveloped and repetitive writing; the wind always “howls” and the lead characters always “pad” across floors.
What’s more, when James does use more imaginative language, it is so obviously a clue that the half-awake reader has seen the story’s big reveals before the book’s half-way point, which saps a lot of the scare factor.
Compounding the problem, so many different genre strands are then criss-crossed that some key plot lines are simply not completed. This becomes frustrating as pivotal set pieces are not fully explored and, as a more serious structural fault, it means that the novel’s gothic design feels like a false façade because stylised sections are not given enough background information to ring true.
Peter James’ The House On Cold Hill is an entertaining, if rather unimaginative, multi-genre mystery with a staff of colourful characters but rather drab decor. Ultimately, it collapses under the weight of its own architectural ambition at the expense of a greater attention to detail.