The Quiet House
Lily Morton’s The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings introduced readers to the eponymous quirky and snarky York-based ghost-tour guide, and Levi Black, a cartoonist from London who, after the death of his mother and a bad break-up, moves to York after inheriting a house near the Minster from a distant relative. It’s a fun mix of romance and ghost story, with likeable characters, some lovely moments of poignancy and lots of the author’s trademark witty banter, and I – like many of Ms. Morton’s fans – have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. The Quiet House is that book, and once again the author has penned an intriguing story and peopled it with some great characters – some we’ve met before, some who are new – and shown she’s more than able to bring the spooky when called for.
The Quiet House takes place around a year after Blue and Levi were nearly killed ridding Levi’s house of a particularly dangerous and malevolent ghost. The intervening year has seen a number of changes in their lives – good changes – with Blue working to understand and control his abilities and he and Levi becoming closer and finding their way forward as a couple. Blue still leads his ghost tour once a week, and when the story begins, Blue notices an old man dressed all in black standing quietly at the back of his tour group. He’s far too solid-looking to be a spirit, and Blue believes he’s just a late arrival – and a stingy one at that, when he disappears without paying the fee. Not until a day or so later does he learn what he’s seen, when his friend, employer and mentor in all things psychic, crotchety bookshop-owner Tom Pattison, explains that what he saw was a spirit – or more correctly a “crow” – a warning that trouble is on the way.
And it arrives when Levi opens the door one evening to a stranger asking to see Blue – a stranger who looks oddly familiar. With good reason. The man is Declan Shaw. Blue’s absentee father.
Blue has never even met his dad seeing as how he legged it before Blue was born; he recognises him from an old photo his mother kept with her at all times. Declan’s sudden appearance evokes mixed emotions in Blue – anger for sure, but curiosity, too; maybe Declan can fill in some of the blanks for Blue, tell him some of the things about his mother he longs to know. But Declan shows no sign of wanting to build anything with his son; he’s there to offer Blue a lucrative job at the home of his eccentric employer, Viscount Ingram, whose massive country house on the Yorkshire Moors is reputed to be the most haunted house in England. Ingram wants to open the house to the public as a hotel of the macabre – and he needs a psychic to tell him about the spirits he can see, to interact with them and tell him their stories.
Much to Levi’s dismay, Blue is intrigued and seriously considering the proposition. He’s worried that Declan will hurt Blue, but when Tom reveals the house in question has a terrible reputation and that it’s haunted by some very violent sprits, it seems that there is a great deal more to worry about than Blue’s relationship with his father. Tom and Levi know Blue is going to need all the help he can get, and together, the three of them make their way to the grand estate, where right from the off, Blue and Tom are affected by the overwhelming sense of evil that permeates the place.
And of course things go from bad to worse once they arrive. It turns out Blue and Tom aren’t the only psychics to have been invited to unlock the secrets of this particular haunted house, and that over the past year or so, Ingram has extended the same invitation to many psychic guests – and now it seems the spirits are seriously pissed off and that something truly powerful and evil has been awakened. And not only that, but Blue’s worst nightmare seems to be coming true. Something is targeting Levi.
Lily Morton is known for writing funny, sexy contemporary romances with plenty of snark and plenty of steam, but in this series, she shows she’s able to turn her hand to something different. The steam and humour are still present (albeit a little toned down), but the paranormal element of the story is the main focus, and she creates a real sense of menace and disquiet that slowly pervades the book, becoming stronger and stronger until we reach the novel’s dramatic climax.
I was delighted to see Tom get a bigger role in this story; he’s a curmudgeon with a heart of gold and a real soft spot for Blue, and I love his deadpan sense of humour. The other secondary characters – an eccentric viscount, a TV psychic and a couple of nasty blasts from Blue’s past – are vividly drawn, and I hope Jem, the cameraman who would rather be photographing penguins than poltergeists, will make that trip to York and meet up with Blue’s friend Will again.
The romance in this book is more low-key than before, but even though Blue and Levi have been together for a year, they have some lovely, tender moments together, and I was really pleased to see how far Blue has come since the last book, when he was skittish and insecure, used to keeping himself apart and waiting for rejection. He’s the same whimsical, smart-mouthed so-and-so he always was, but there’s a sense of stability and equanimity in him that weren’t there before. And Levi – sweet, caring, loveable Levi – is his anchor, the person who keeps him grounded and tethered to reality. Their devotion to one another shines through, even in moments of insecurity and doubt.
The Quiet House is an entertaining read that boasts a winning combination of snarky psychic, lonely viscount, ghostly monks, satanic rituals and the grumpiest mentor ever. It’s a nicely balanced mix of funny, sexy and spooky, and I enjoyed my return to the world of Black & Blue.