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The Blackhouse


The Blackhouse

On an island in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of mainland Scotland, visitors, rare though they may be, are greeted with a sign reading “Welcome to the Isle of Kilmeray.” But when Maggie MacKay returns in her mid-20s, there is little about the island that is welcoming --- from the weather to the inhabitants to the Blackhouse that she has rented. She had last been to Kilmeray when she was five years old, and she caused quite a stir with her claim of being Andrew MacNeil, a man who lived and died on the island.

Maggie has come back now to put to rest her nagging questions and doubts about the truth of what happened all those years ago. In fact, she wants to figure out if Andrew was murdered. Like anywhere else, the people of this tiny community don’t want old ghosts stirred up. Only one or two of the almost 20 residents are even civil to Maggie, several others are overtly hostile and many are openly threatening.

"Read THE BLACKHOUSE with the lights on, wrapped in a cozy blanket, and try not to shiver. The early spring of the Scottish isle will chill your bones, along with the darkness of the book."

Maggie discovers that the man she is inquiring about changed his name, for personal reasons, to Robert Reid. She also learns that he and his family lived in the Blackhouse, the very house where she’s staying. Are pieces of his soul still lurking in its walls? Maggie feels uncomfortable inside the house --- not only due to what she thinks could be a stalker but also because of the appearance of dead crows, which is obviously some sort of omen or talisman, and strange noises in the night. Still, she’s driven to find answers. Her future peace depends on it. Maggie has suffered from bipolar issues, so she must be absolutely certain that she has not made this up. And she needs to know that her mom didn’t lie to her. This whole endeavor is meant to put her mind at ease. So far, though, it has had the opposite effect.

During Maggie’s visit, storms suddenly appear out of nowhere, with howling winds and drenching rains, keeping the atmosphere cold and brooding. A group of archaeologists are working on a dig at the same time as Maggie’s investigation, which foretells an unearthing of more secrets than the islanders can control, despite their best efforts. Some light shines on Maggie’s days when she finds a growing attraction to “Sexy Will,” as her local friend, Kelly, calls him. Maggie’s doctor warned her not to start relationships. But there’s something about Will that just makes her happy. And doesn’t she deserve that? Although he is very much a man who belongs to Kilmeray, Maggie and Will seem instantly drawn to each other. A little budding romance breaks the tension. However, it also causes tension and jealousy among some young women who have had their eye on him as well.

There’s a sense of dread and impending doom throughout Carole Johnstone’s telling of this story. It feels as if it’s always dark, cold and wet on the island. It starts out in February, so the Scottish rain will naturally be icy and the night will certainly fall early. After getting to know Maggie, it’s difficult not to root for the love that she and Will share. But can she keep it? Is it possible for her to make a life on Kilmeray with the conflicts inside her mind and the burden of the secrets underlying the island’s history?

Read THE BLACKHOUSE with the lights on, wrapped in a cozy blanket, and try not to shiver. The early spring of the Scottish isle will chill your bones, along with the darkness of the book. It’s as unsettling as the ocean in the stormy seas and as enigmatic as the Norse myths that accompany it. And the twists --- oh, the twists.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 13, 2023

The Blackhouse
by Carole Johnstone

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1982199679
  • ISBN-13: 9781982199678