One By One – Book Review

One by One – D. W. Gillespie

Flame Tree Press, 2019

The Easton family has just moved into their new fixer-upper, a beautiful old house that they bought at a steal, and Alice, the youngest of the family, is excited to explore the strange, new place. Her excitement turns to growing dread as she discovers a picture hidden under the old wallpaper, a child’s drawing of a family just like hers. 

Soon after, members of the family begin to disappear, each victim marked on the child’s drawing with a dark black X. It’s up to her to unlock the grim mystery of the house before she becomes the next victim.

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I was hooked from the opening with this book, a very intricately woven family horror tale, narrated by the wise beyond her years Alice. At just 10 years old she is left to uncover the truth behind a sinister wall painting and find out just what is happening to her family.

The story begins with the family arriving at their new house, an absolute “steal” according to Frank, Alice’s father. Frank is prone to whimsical schemes and a bit of a dreamer, so when he buys this house it’s not surprising that the rest of the family isn’t exactly convinced.

Alice seems to connect on anther level with the house, she has her own narration of events in her head, from ‘Mary’, a girl who tragically died in the house. She know’s deep down that something is wrong and that something dark is t work, but she just can’t put her finger on it. When she finds the picture of the previous family under the wallpaper her suspicions seem to take on their own energy. A stick figure family, mother, father, son, daughter and the family pet – just the same as Alice’s family.

Their pet cat vanishes and at the same time a mysterious ‘X’ is drawn over the pet in the picture. The an ‘X’ is drawn over the boy, representing her brother Dean. Just what is happening to Alice’s family and what does ‘Mary’ have to do with it.

I love the mis-direct within the story – the reader is convinced it’s one thing happening when in fact it’s something even more sinister. The story of Mary and just what happened to her is an interesting and tragic tale. We get snippets throughout thanks to Mary’s diary after Alice comes across in and has to read it. It is a very well put together narrative, very clever yet simple at the same time, and for me, the characters, particularly Alice, really set this off.

One by One is my second read from D. W. Gillespie (thanks to Flame Tree Press for the eARC). I look forward to more.

The Toy Thief (October 2018) – ***Minor Spoilers***

The Toy Thief

4*

D. W. Gillespie

Flame Tree Press

 

“As a girl, Jack lives with her father and brother after her mother passed away during childbirth. Her father is a well-meaning construction worker who treats her more like a roommate, while her brother, Andy, is an introverted loner prone to violent outbursts, a virtual mirror to his sister who is outspoken to an extreme. The story opens on a sleepover with nine year old Jack and her close friend. While putting on a pretend show, the two girls leave a video camera running, and when Jack replays the tape the next day, she sees her friend’s toy being snatched off the end table and out the back door by a swift, nearly unseen hand. Excited and bewildered, she tries to show the tape to her thirteen year old brother, Andy who is still furious about the spat he and Jack got into the night before. Without another word, he smashes the tape of the intruder. That night, determined to catch the creature she now calls The Toy Thief, Jack sets up a series of traps, all of which fail miserably. Once she awakens in the middle of the night, she finds her friend’s toy has returned, brought back by The Toy Thief, an impossibly tall and rat-like creature with glassy eyes. Just then, Andy steps out of his room, and as The Thief flees in a panic, Andy realizes his sister is telling the truth. The two of them are able to surmise that The Thief most likely travels through a tangled section of woods called The Trails, and they go out in search of it. After returning unsuccessful, Jack awakes the next morning to find Andy missing from his bedroom. As her father informs the police, Jack knows it’s up to her to find him. Jack must venture into the dark place WHERE TOYS GO to get him back. But even if she finds him, will he ever be the same?”

 

It’s the defining moments in our lives that what make us who we are. They shape us, mould us and manipulate us into the person we are today. A lot of those moments happen during childhood, during the period of our lives that we are most malleable, most impressionable, and most innocent.

I particularly liked the format of this book, the storytelling in the shape of a woman recalling a traumatic event from her childhood. One that will have shaped her somewhat, and made her the person she is today. It read really well, flitting between the past and the present. You could have almost been sat across a table in a greasy spoon from her, listening to Jack’s dark tale.

It was more than a story about a lurking monster; it was about family, and the bonds that hold us together as well as drive us apart. The sibling relationship between Jack and Andy was touching, how it ended was heartbreakingly sweet I felt. The family unit was the main focus of the book from my perspective. The challenges of a widowed father, raising two children after his wife has died during childbirth, and the difficult relationship between brother and sister that ensued. Andy had known his mother, Jack had not. That difficult resentment, when you love someone but you struggle to get past something that you know deep down wasn’t their fault. That’s the relationship between Jack and Andy, turbulent and angry, but at the same time a deep loving bond. It was really well thought out and written I felt. I had a real empathy for the whole family.

The Toy Thief itself, the monster, is deliciously creepy in so many wonderful ways. The perfect manifestation of a childhood nightmare, it’s the monster coming to take your most precious toys. It was a darkly creepy creature, hiding in the shadows, just waiting for its moment to strike. I really loved it. It’s that monster under the bed scenario, or in your closet maybe. It’s that underlying fear that something is watching, waiting, and you are afraid to fall asleep in case it gets you in the night. I appreciated the hidden depths too; it was a great touch that made it an even more frightening experience.

This is a great read that plays on our most innocent fears. It hits home in many ways, both good and bad. This is a wonderful scary story, definitely worth a read.

Available for Pre-order from Amazon, The Toy Thief hits the bookshelves 18th October 2018. Check it out.

 

4/5 – very very creepy.

Lesley-Ann (Housewife of Horror)

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