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Malice House


Malice House

Megan Shepherd, the author of acclaimed young adult and middle-grade novels, makes her adult debut with MALICE HOUSE, a seriously sinister mystery wrapped in a storybook turned very, very dark.

When Haven’s eccentric father, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Amory Marbury, dies after a battle with dementia, she dreads going to review and pack up his remote house. Named for its previous owner, Miss Alice, Malice House is situated in the steep seaside forest of Lundie Bay off the coast of Seattle. Amory saw it as the perfect hideout for a reclusive author like himself with kooky fans. However, in the years since he first purchased the sprawling house, Lundie Bay has gained a reputation as a getaway for the obscenely rich, and the hillside has become dotted with newly built homes, each more modern than the next.

"Megan Shepherd crafts a seriously tight mystery with plenty of red herrings, shocking twists and even a few jump scares, making it a chilling thriller with a totally immersive setting."

But while wealthy individuals love to come to Lundie Bay, they don’t really frequent its small town, where everyone knows everyone and gossip is as good as currency. Amory Marbury and his legacy are legendary here, right down to the bookstore named after one of his books and decorated in posters of him and his book covers. It’s not exactly the kind of place where Haven can disappear, but after an explosive fight with her boyfriend and a breakup that has depleted her financially, Malice House represents her best opportunity for moving forward and figuring out her own career as an illustrator.

For the last few years of his life, Amory ranted and raved about Pinchy, a little demon who he said lived in his walls and accepted offerings of toast in exchange for good behavior. A whip-smart, literary intellectual, he was not prone to fantasies or the supernatural. So while his claims seemed like the product of an addled mind, Haven can’t help but notice that Malice House certainly is creepy.

Dahlia, the housekeeper, shows Haven around, but she can’t explain the odd appearance of the attic or the strange boxes of dirt strewn across the dusty room. A good, no-nonsense Christian lady, Dahlia seems to want nothing to do with Malice House now that its owner is gone. This means that tackling the cleaning and ordering of the house will be a much bigger project for Haven. And nothing goes better with big projects than whiskey, which is one area where her father never scrimped.

As Haven digs through the house, she spots a locked drawer in her father’s desk that, fortunately for her, has rotted through, exposing the stack of papers hidden within. The crinkled, handwritten manuscript she discovers is titled “Bedtime Stories for Monsters” and begins ominously: “One step away from our world lies another: a land of violent fantasies, of sharp-toothed delights.” Assuming the book is an early work of her father’s, an attempt to test a different genre, Haven devours the short piece in one night. She finds the creepy stories utterly crazy yet strangely compelling, enough so that she picks up her watercolors and begins sketching some of the monsters he created. They may be her best work yet.

Never particularly close with her father (and seriously down on her luck), Haven realizes that the manuscript could be a literal gold mine for her. After all, wouldn’t the publishing world leap at the chance to publish a celebrated author’s secret manuscript? And even more so when they realize that it's illustrated by his daughter, making it not only a posthumous publication, but a work “in conversation” between father and daughter?

With dollar signs in her eyes, Haven approaches the local bookstore owner, Catherine Tybee, whose husband once headed his own publishing imprint. She finds out that Amory was part of a secret literary salon featuring Catherine and her husband, as well as Ronan Young, the head of the library research department at a nearby university that has inherited her father’s personal library. But when the group sees Haven’s drawings, they turn cold and dismissive of her work, while becoming creepily obsessive about Amory's manuscript. Then the murders start.

As bodies drop all over the island, each somehow connected to Haven and each murdered in a way that is eerily reminiscent of one of her father’s works, Haven feels like there is more malice to Malice House than she ever realized. Now, after spending years running away from his biography, she is forced to reckon with the life and legacy of the man she called Dad, and the mark he has left on Lundie Bay and the world. But with each clue about his past and each new friend comes a new suspect, a sensation of being watched and another death. Maybe, just maybe, Amory wasn’t crazy after all, but the victim of something supernatural and malicious.

Megan Shepherd crafts a seriously tight mystery with plenty of red herrings, shocking twists and even a few jump scares, making it a chilling thriller with a totally immersive setting. At the same time, it is a deliciously dark fantasy that is a true testament to the power of stories and perfect for any book lover who has ever wanted to step inside a book or has been obsessed with a favorite author (bad idea, says Haven). Haunting, full of secrets and strangely charming, MALICE HOUSE is perfect for readers of Leigh Bardugo, Shea Ernshaw and Katherine Howe.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 11, 2022

Malice House
by Megan Shepherd