T. Kingfisher’s 2019 The Twisted Ones is a standalone horror novel.
Rather than saddle her elderly father with the job, Melissa — Mouse to most folks — accepts the task of sorting through her late grandmother’s North Carolina home. In life, the old lady was malicious and cruel. Nobody much misses her. Even in death, Mouse’s grandmother gets one last joke at her relatives’ expense: she was a hoarder. The house is full of detritus and poor Mouse must sort through it.
Mouse is a freelance editor. She cannot resist skimming through any interesting documents she finds as she deals with the hoard. Her grandmother didn’t leave a diary, but the old woman’s unfortunate second husband Cotgrave was of a more literary bent. Cotgrave’s journal catches Mouse’s eye.
The journal paints a picture of a husband victimized by an evil wife. He complains that she must have taken a treasured book, a memento of a deceased friend, a certain Ambrose. It’s never clear who Ambrose might have been or why the book was so precious.
Cotgrave was more forthcoming on other matters. Dark, occult matters. Mouse should stop reading, but cannot. Cotgrave leaves out a lot of details, but what he does say is horrifying.
Mouse gradually becomes aware that there are eldritch things lurking in a pocket dimension all too close to her grandmother’s Pondsburo home. Eldritch things who become all too aware of Mouse…
This is a horror novel of the Bad Place variety. Mouse has a beloved dog, Bongo. The juxtaposition of those two facts may alarm some of you. Relax. Early on, the author reveals that good dog Bongo is one of the survivors. No nasty twist: the idiot dog makes it to the end of the novel intact and happy. Not so much the other characters.
Most Bad Place stories start off with a Bad Place that hides behind a facade of normalcy. This story doesn’t. Even before the horrors shamble onstage, the isolated house was home to a comprehensively nasty person, the sort of bully who hides treasured books out of spite and torments a husband by disturbing his sleep. It’s possible that the disorganized rambling in Cotgrave’s diary was due to occult knowledge scrambling his brain, but it’s just as likely that he was suffering from decades of sleep deprivation.
(Why didn’t he just leave? Well, people don’t. Plus he hoped to find the precious book his wife hid.)
As Kingfisher makes clear, this novel is a sequel of sorts to Arthur Machen’s 1904 short story “The White People”. Readers who have not read “The White People” can still enjoy The Twisted Ones. I did. Until I read the afterword, I’d never heard of Machen or his short story.
The Twisted Ones is a well-written, absorbing tale that is up to Kingfisher’s usual high standard. It’s a slowly escalating tale of awful relatives, terrible neighbours, and atmospheric horror. But the dog lives.