I’m a huge fan of gothic literature and horror stories, so when I heard an author combined both, set it in 1950s Mexico, and had it starring a creepy ass house, I was all over it. And let me tell you. It did NOT disappoint.
TW: domestic abuse and violence, attempted sexual assault and harassment, suicide, homicide, and lots of gorey bits and pieces.
The story follows Noemi, a young socialite who’s days are filled with a pursuit for a degree in anthropology while her nights are filled with champagne and lavish parties and men fawning over her. When she hears her cousin, Catalina, is sick, she decides to take a trip to High Place, the home where Catalina lives with her husband and his family.
However, when Noemi arrives at High Place, things aren’t as they seemed. First off, the town is not like where Noemi came from. It was much smaller than the lights of Mexico City. The house itself is falling apart with mold covering the walls. There’s not enough light coming into the home giving off an ominous feel. Noemi isn’t allowed to leave on her own. She can’t smoke. She can’t speak with her cousin because Catalina is sleeping all the time. In Noemi’s boredom, she starts to figure out what’s happening to her cousin and why this opulent home has fallen into such disarray. When Noemi finally uncovers the secrets of High Place, it becomes more than just a creepy ghost story.
I’m a huge fan of horror stories like this where you think you see something from the corner of your eye, but then you ignore it because it’s probably just your brain. But then that thing starts moving and all of a sudden, you’re not in Kansas anymore. That’s what this book felt like; a scary roller-coaster that once you get down the first hill, you’re basically just along for the ride. Also, gothic is most definitely the right word to explain High Place. The foggy scenes in the graveyard gave me so much Bronte sisters vibes that I was eating it up.
I was really intrigued by Noemi. She’s such a complex character and I loved her dimensions. She was a socialite in many ways, but her studies in anthropology and her inquisitive nature both play major roles in the story as she uncovers the secrets of High Place. I love how her intelligence is always thwarted by someone; some dude coming at her trying to trip her up with eugenics or anthropological theories. With a background like hers and then having her explore High Place looking for answers really made me love Noemi so much more. Having the story centered on her experience brings the readers into the story learning alongside her. It was a good vehicle to keep secrets close to the chest and share SMG’s hand slowly while pacing the novel.
The other characters of this novel also play a huge role in the overall story. You’ve got the ambitious grandson who is waiting for his moment to take over the family business. You’ve got the dying grandfather who doesn’t want to die, but coming to terms with it. You’ve got the big old questions about their family and the house, which makes it so much more intriguing. And then on top of all that, you’ve got Noemi and her cousin Catalina and their role in this entire endeavor. The complexity of their family life was probably the big driver of this story because it was COMPLEX. I don’t know if I would ever want to spend a holiday with these folks. lol.
And I will admit, the pace is definitely a slow burn. However, I never felt bored. The story hints at a lot of different things and felt more like a giant puzzle where the pieces eventually all come together. I love an author that drops hints all throughout the story, but doesn’t make it so obvious so that it becomes a big surprise! I found myself going “omg that thing from before! YES! I GET IT!” which is a very fun feeling for me.
In terms of its spookiness, it’s up there. I will admit that I’ve read scarier in my life, but that doesn’t take away from the atmospheric and suspenseful nature of the story. SMG keeps you guessing all the way to the end and even then I feel like she leaves you questioning whether or not what happened actually happened. I love a good book that questions whether what you read was truth.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.