Price Manor - The house that burns - by Mike Salt
This is the first novella I’ve read by Mike Salt, an author I’ve been aware of for a while now on Instagram/Twitter, mainly through his encouraging messages to other writers to keep on writing, and timely reminders that books won’t write themselves. He’s right on both counts, and his positivity was a factor that played to my decision to pick up Price Manor – the other contributing factors were the lush cover from Jay Alexander and the concept – several authors contributing to a series based around a location – the Manor itself – with Mike kicking off the series.
Addressing the writing, Mike’s voice is eminently readable. The chapters are kept short and generally end on points of tension, which sweep the novel along, the reader caught up in the action and wanting to know how each chapter’s situation will be resolved. That’s standard among thriller horrors that I have read, and that format serves Salt well here, there is no doubt that the pages flew by. Mike’s voice certainly helped the effect – whilst I can’t say I was particularly attached to any of the characters, the situation they found themselves in (a raging fire, sweeping across the land) added the background tension that gave relevance and motivation to enter the mansion in the first place – rescuing others is both a noble and human response and Salt, by showcasing that not all of the characters wanted to enter the mansion - and were instead more interested in fleeing the area – made the situation more believable and wrenched up the tension dial.
All of which brings us to the Manor itself – the focus of the series, and the base of the stories to follow.
And I say that with the awareness that I am not a horror film fan or even a “casual” horror film fan or observer (they give me the willies. I run from the room). I can quite readily believe that my experience in Mike’s book will be completely different from a true horror film aficionado’s experience. I’m a horror book nerd, and worse, a details nerd. I want to know all of the answers, the how, what and why’s of a scare, and readers of this novella should know, going in, it’s more of a classic horror film novel – you aren’t going to get all of the answers, though Mike presents the answers that he reveals in a believable enough way.
In horror films, sometimes things happen that make no sense – they are visually horrific moments that are sometimes used as jump scares or as psychological scares. Is it real, what we are watching? Or some form of hallucination? Reading Price Manor has the same effect – I have no idea if some of the visual effects Salt describes here are similar to events in films, but the whole novel has that cinematic quality about it – the reader is thrust from one horrific scene into the next.
At some point, we learn that the house is trying to kill the intruders. We never learn why, or the logistical “how?” it can do the things it does, but honestly that’s not important – the adrenalin and testosterone Salt injects into the novel is either going to have you on the edge of your seat, biting your lips ragged and remembering to breathe occasionally, or shaking your head, frustrated at the logical inconsistency of the house itself.
I was somewhere in the middle.
Contradictions abound - a room filling with blood, with a ghost hanging above the blood, that is going to kill two trapped people if it touches them (drowning in blood versus heart-attack touch from the ghost)– but the ghost is scared of the blood? It can’t kill them if they go under the blood? Why would the house (that wants to kill the two people) put a ghost in a room that was obviously incapable of killing the people due to exactly an element in that room that the house put into that room as well? The blood was coming from somewhere - the house put it into that room, but then put an “allergic-to-blood” type ghost in there to finish off the job?
Hmm. Let me think about that one for a second…
The visuals of it are fantastic, of course. The two elements – rising blood, and a deathly ghost, whose touch will kill you – great cinematic moments – but sensical? Nope.
Or a corridor that gets smaller and smaller the more you go down it (the house changing the laws of physics and space/time), until you are crawling along in a tight space, until you are jammed into a wedge-like hole, only to find a spider-like monster waiting at the end of the tunnel you are trapped in. The physical dimensions of the house can change, so the house has made that tunnel smaller and smaller, to make it harder for the person to escape the monster at the end of that tunnel. So, when the trapped person starts to go backward, why doesn’t the house make the tunnel going backward smaller as well? It wants to kill this person, right? That’s the endgame here, or? It can't change the corridor if someone is going backward?
Hmm. Let me think about that one for a second…
Regardless, there are elements here that were truly creepy, that I thought worked really well. The shadow whispering into one character’s ear, changing their attitude, making them volatile – that was great. Really nasty image. This is a true melting pot of ideas thrown together to scare the bejeezus out of the reader, and ignoring my inner nerd asking-all-the-damn-questions, I can still say I loved the concept of the novella, and Mike’s outstanding visual narration. If ever there was a book that needed turning into a film, this is it. I wouldn’t understand everything in the film, but I’d have left that theatre scared shitless and thinking it was money well spent.
How do I rate this? I’m not sure my own nerd-detail-needs-the-answers-to-every-element reviewer self is qualified to rate this book, which honestly, is one of the most visually arresting horror novellas I’ve read. Salt brings his own completely mad psychologically challenging trauma onto the horror table. I can shake my head at the questions I’ll pin him down on, whenever we get together to share a beer (or fruit juice, I don't drink alcohol) and I’ll have a ton of questions for him, like “What the hell was that?” or “why didn’t the house just drop them through a hole through several floors until they splatted on the basement cement?” – but there’s no doubt that he set up a fantastic premise for the following authors.
I’m giving this 4⭐ ‘s for sheer cinematic brilliance, and I still don’t know what it was I just watched.
What I just read.
I think maybe I watched this book.
Mike – I’ll be sure to pick up a copy of The Valley. Read you soon.
You can pick up a copy of Price Manor - the house that burns - by clicking the appropriate Amazon link, below:
You can visit Mike's website, HERE.
You can follow Mike on Instagram, HERE.
You can follow Mike on Twitter, HERE.
You can follow Mike on Facebook, HERE.
You can watch Mike on TikTok, HERE.