"The Grip of It"

I couldn’t stop reading Jac Jemc’s “The Grip of It,” a creepy psychological suspense novel about a couple who buys a haunted house. Prompted by James’ gambling problem, Julie and James purchase a large house in a small town and trade city life for a slower-paced country life.

Far removed from casinos, they hope to renew their marriage. They are surprised the house is so cheap, but even then they worry about the money they are spending. When they hear a noise that sounds like moaning, they heed the realtor’s explanation: “That’s just the house settling.”

The house is foreboding, full of secret compartments and strange spaces in the walls. As Julie and James settle into their new place, they find spookiness throughout the house, out in the woods, and down to the beach. An intrusive neighbor keeps a close watch on them. Julie finds mysterious bruises on her skin. This is a nice touch. Unexplained bruising could be the result of haunting - or spousal abuse.

All sorts of strange, unexplained things happen. This is my favorite touch: When they start asking questions about the history of the house, the locals all have different explanations and stories. Something about the house isn’t right, and it may extend beyond the house and affect people’s memory of the house.

Jemc tells the story in short, urgent chapters, alternating between Julie and James’ voices. The couple doesn’t always share their experiences with each other. Their struggles with marital trust are just as compelling, and just as urgent, as the mysteries of the haunted house. They look for excuses, both in the house and in their marriage. Are they imagining things? Are things as bad they seem?

Their trust erodes and their paranoia grows. They each resort to impulsive acts, as they try to understand the horror they find themselves in. The ending is unsettling, and not what I expected. But it is the ending that this mysterious and creepy little book needs.

“The Grip of It” defies easy answers and easy analysis. The marriage is unsettling and uneasy, but so are the house and the town. Every house has a history. Any one of us can be living in a house haunted by the unhappy past of previous occupants. This one is for fans of haunted house books, especially those who likes an author who builds a creepy atmosphere.