“Conrad Harrison found the last home he would ever know by
driving the wrong way out of Chicago with a ghost in his
From that fabulous first line to the killer ending, Christopher
Ransom’s debut novel grabs hold and doesn’t let go. And
everything in between charges along at a relentless pace. It is as
much a ghost story as it is a psychological thriller.
Conrad and Joanna Harrison’s marriage has been suffering
greatly and may be in danger of dying altogether if they cannot
find a way to salvage it, and quickly. Their lives in Los Angeles
are only adding to the faltering health of their strained
relationship. In a fortuitous episode of missed highway
connections, Conrad believes he has stumbled upon the answer: a
fresh start in their very own house, away from the temptations of
the big city, in a little place he happens upon in Wisconsin called
Black Earth. Just the name should have warned him off. It foretells
of dark times ahead. Little good will come of his accidental detour
“It was to be a miracle. What other miracles are there but
beginnings? It is being born. And if birth is a miracle, it is a
shame we cannot remember it.”
The house at 818 Heritage Street was old, very old, with a lot
of history. But more about that later. First, Conrad buys it, then
tells Joanna, and moves them halfway across the country for their
new start. If only it had worked out the way he hoped. Was it
foolish to expect that they could blindly settle into a strange
town, named Black Earth no less, and instantly heal the deep wounds
in their marriage?
Early on, things start to go awry. Joanna finds a job, but she
has to go away for an eight-week training course. Such a long
separation will do nothing to bring them closer. Instead, Conrad
rambles around the house, becoming resentful and restless, and soon
starts eyeballing the neighbor girl. In fairness, she does have
quite a voluptuous body, and Conrad has been starved for intimacy
for quite some time. Still, it’s forbidden fruit. If he
succumbs to temptation, all sorts of consequences await him.
Joanna, meanwhile, has a few surprises for him herself.
Unfortunately, she is far away --- both physically and emotionally.
Conrad desperately needs to see her, to touch her, to talk with
her. The waiting nearly kills him. He begins to worry that he is
losing his mind. He has started hearing things in the house, and
has been seeing forms in the dark. So many odd happenings send him
searching for answers. He heads for the one person he believes can
help him, who must know what is going on.
“Something had happened here, maybe several somethings
involving life and death and the things that slip through the
cracks in between. Something had been born here and it lived here
It is no secret that, long ago, a doctor lived at 818 Heritage.
Women came to him for help delivering their babies. The house
served as a hospital of sorts, a birthing house. But not all the
residents moved out. Something stayed behind. What remains within
the walls is what Conrad must deal with. And hope it cannot hurt
him. Or his wife.
Readers of THE BIRTHING HOUSE may well survive after the last
page has been turned, but no one will come out unscathed.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010