God damn, have you read Gallows Hill? I’ve seen vacuum cleaners suck less.
I suppose it’s from a lack of research on my part, but seeing how this book was straight to paperback, that should’ve been a sign. But I got burned. I saw it on a list made by those assholes at Book Riot about some recent horror books that do the job of being scary. (This isn’t the first time I’ve been burned by one of their lists and their podcasts have been consistently shitty.) But Gallows Hill, by “USA Today bestselling author” Darcy Coates, is trite trash.
Again, it’s partly on me: I should’ve read the blurb on the cover that reads, “Beautifully written and sure to keep readers guessing” which is not even about this book. What the fuck, mate? (The author lives in Australia.) And while Goodreads is my favorite app, even I recognize it’s not always accurate: folks there scored Gallows Hill as an extremely high 4.11. It ain’t.
Anyway, to satisfy a personal goal, every October I love to read one or two horror books. I picked this one up. Horror has to be the hardest genre to write, though I’ve gone through so many that are bad. Multitudes who write in the genre tend to stick heavily to it, too: Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, Clive Barker, Darcy Coates. And so many do it to, well, horrible effect. Since Tremblay is as good as anyone when it comes to horror with something to say, I need to stick to his books from now on.
Coates’ writing style in Gallows Hill reads like she knows what she should say and not what she could say. Her options are limited only to what she has seen before, what would “scare” and not what would scare.
The plot is fine enough. After only living at Gallows Hill as a very young kid, Margot inherits her parents’ house and wine business after they die unexpectedly. She doesn’t know its mysterious, haunting ways, you see. And the folks around town want nothing to do with her now that she’s the boss lady of the estate. The people who work around and in the wine business won’t talk, either. Maybe it’s because they’re bored to tears by simplistic, opposite-of-lyrical writing or how wine is just a fine substitute for blood in every movie and book imaginable since the bible. I don’t know. There is a sentence in this book that’s supposed to describe Margot as being exhausted that actually reads, “The tiredness was still there…stretching her like taffy.” That’s real. I didn’t make that shit up.
The novel also fails with being over descriptive. Coates doesn’t trust readers to imagine things, and by attempting to paint every single detail for the reader, the book actually tells nothing. It’s about a house, built purposefully complex, yet I never had a sense of where anything was — important if a piece of text is about a place.
Luckily, Coates does convey conversations well. It’s too bad the action scenes and the countless descriptions don’t have any dialogue. It’s a story with a limited pont of view, too, and only being able to send time with Margot is a failure. There are other characters at Gallows Hill that could deepen both the novel and the scares. Alas, that ain’t happening. There’s a good story somewhere in here, but it never comes out.
If nothing else, let this serve as a final warning: there is literally a character named “Witchety.”
Never again, Book Riot. Never again.
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