In the Shadow of Spindrift House: One day, we will all go into the water

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIn the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIn the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant

Zoinks, Scoob. Like, this is one crazy mixed-up book.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House (2019) is a lot like if Mystery, Inc. — you know, those four meddling kids, their talking dog, and that giant green van — stumbled into investigating a Lovecraftian tale. The difference being, of course, that Mira Grant’s novella is deadly, deadly serious, with little chance that any shambling or creeping horrors will be unmasked to reveal an old amusement-park owner who would have gotten away with his nefarious plan if not for said meddlers.

Harlowe Upton-Jones and her three friends, all recent high school graduates, are real-and-true teenage detectives. They’ve spent years solving cases and getting their names in local newspapers, garnering fame and praise for the Answer Squad’s surprising competency and success rate.

But now that society expects them to be adults, Harlowe’s the only one who isn’t willing to say goodbye to those glory days, especially since there isn’t anything else she wants to do with her life, and while Miskatonic University might admit her, that’s not an appealing option. Twins Andy and Addison want to go to college and have predictable (in Andy’s case), lucrative (in Addison’s case) lives; Harlowe’s adoptive brother Kevin wants to live on his family farm, raise chickens, and keep his intense anxiety at bay via cannabis. Nothing but solving mysteries gives Harlowe purpose, so when a tantalizing mystery comes to her attention (with a hefty cash reward attached) she sees the perfect opportunity to keep the group together … if they survive what lurks within Spindrift House.

Harlowe’s backstory will ring very familiar if readers know anything about Lovecraftian horror: her parents were slaughtered by a mysterious cult when she was young, resulting in her being raised first by her father’s parents and then by Kevin’s, and the mystery in question requires the sorting-out of ownership of an old, decrepit seaside mansion in Maine, a house with a convoluted and blood-soaked history. Arriving at the site elicits strange behavior in Harlowe and her friends, there’s far more to fear than brown recluses in the bedsheets, and the siren song of the ceaseless sea plays its part as the novella’s beating heart.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsOur familiarity with historical and modern variations on the Lovecraft mythos meant that we had a solid idea for how the plot would arc and end, and we were correct in our assumptions, but Grant’s prose, which shifts between highly stylized and brutally straightforward, and the character interactions kept our interest firmly fixed. (It might not be a surprise that Jana had Dethklok’s song “Go Into the Water” stuck in her head while reading, resulting in the title of this review.) And Grant’s slight updating of tropes, including her addition of the rising seawaters which threaten the nearby town of Port Mercy, add a freshness and level of tension that aren’t present in early twentieth-century stories with the same themes.

Harlowe and Kevin are the novella’s strongest characters, with the clearest and strongest bond, followed by Addison and lastly by Andy, who needed a little more page time in order to feel like a fully-contributing member of their group. A novel-length work would have given Grant more space for character development, but we feel that she did fairly well with this format.

What In the Shadow of Spindrift House lacks in surprises for prepared readers is compensated for by the sense that the story ends, as these stories do, in the right and proper fashion. We were quite satisfied with its conclusion, despite some unfortunate occurrences along the way, and will happily be adding this volume to our Weird bookshelves.

Subterranean Press’s print version of In the Shadow of Spindrift House, which mentions a dedication to author Catherynne Valente, has a lovely cover by Julie Dillon. Tantor Audio’s edition is narrated by Jesse Vilinsky who was well-cast as Harlowe Upton-Jones. Ms. Vilinsky was totally believable. The audiobook is 4.25 hours long.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsPublished in June 2019. Nature abhors a straight line. The natural world is a place of curves and softened edges, of gentle mists and welcoming spirals. Nature remembers deviation; nature does not forgive. For Harlowe Upton-Jones, life has never been a straight line. Shipped off to live with her paternal grandparents after a mysterious cult killed her mother and father, she has grown up chasing the question behind the curve, becoming part of a tight-knit teen detective agency. But “teen” is a limited time offer, and when her friends start looking for adult professions, it’s up to Harlowe to find them one last case so that they can go out in a blaze of glory. Welcome to Spindrift House. The stories and legends surrounding the decrepit property are countless and contradictory, but one thing is clear: there are people willing to pay a great deal to determine the legal ownership of the house. When Harlowe and her friends agree to investigate the mystery behind the manor, they do so on the assumption that they’ll be going down in history as the ones who determined who built Spindrift House—and why. The house has secrets. They have the skills. They have a plan. They have everything they need to solve the mystery. Everything they need except for time. Because Spindrift House keeps its secrets for a reason, and it has no intention of letting them go. Nature abhors a straight line. Here’s where the story bends.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. Some days I feel like half of the current crop of fantasy is being written by the same woman. When does she rest? LOL.

    • I had the same thought the other day!

      • There are a lot of mentions in the October books of Toby never getting any sleep or remembering to eat. I wonder how much of that is autobiographical!

        • A fair amount, I would expect, especially with her expansion into writing for multiple Marvel comics series. (If my suspicion that she’s a real life alchemist is correct, McGuire/Grant might have created some kind of elixir to keep herself rested, etc. so she can focus squarely on writing. It wouldn’t shock me at all.)

  2. This sounds really interesting! I love haunted-house tales and if a bit of Lovecraftian weirdness is added – all the better! Thanks for this recommendation!

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