Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn was released in April 2015, and I read it December 8, 2017. I basically ignored all other responsibilities I had on Friday to finish this book. Particularly with horror/thriller novels I am not good at reading them in pieces as the tension doesn’t dissipate for me when I close the book to go do other things. Anyway, I binged this and it was great.
A summary from Amazon:
How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?
With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.
Warning, this is going to be slightly spoilery.
One of the strongest parts of the novel for me was Vee – she’s normal. Normal in the sense that she’s struggling, angsty, a bit morbid, and trying find where she fits in. I was especially disturbed at the role she played in the novel because she is so much younger than the people Halcomb recruited and influenced at only 12. It made sense because it meant it would be even easier to manipulate a child on the cusp of adolescence who had no life experience to give her any doubts at all. At first, I was actually disappointed in her. About 3/4 through the book I was just thinking “ugh, why? This does not seem in character.” But then when I thought about the way living in that house and the influences within it were impacting both Vee and Lucas, it made sense that Vee would not take a minute to second guess what was happening to her. Sometimes I forgot Vee was only 12, but I don’t think others in the novel did which also led to the authenticity of her voice and responses – I too, would have loved to be left alone all the time when I was 12 and was not allowed to do so.
Lucas made me feel all sorts of ways. I understood what it felt like to disappear inside writing and time passes and you don’t notice it or forget to eat or break promises. But he was so aware of it and kept doing it anyway – he knew that things weren’t right in that house, that something was wrong, and opened himself up to being taken over. While It’s clear Halcomb still had influence and was dangerous, Lucas is at fault, in the long run. He lies, he hedges, he procrastinates, and he acts selfishly. On a spectrum of good father to bad father, he lands on the bad father end of the spectrum.
The atmosphere is SO FANTASTIC. I feel a little bit shamed for my immediate love of the old school retro house with conversation pit living room that everyone made fun of, but I also felt like I could picture the house really well. I could picture why the shadows were creepy. The atmosphere was just right in terms of the house being isolated, the house being a special location that caused the characters would question if something was real or not, and the way each character’s own specific fears were well articulated. Ahlborn describes their fears in a multi-sensation way that it’s easier for the fear to come off the page, and reminds the reader that the characters are always being watched. If they are in that house, they are never alone. It’s very creepy.
Any fan of horror, who has even a passing interest in cults, will enjoy this book. I appreciated the point that people aren’t aware they are joining a cult when they do. That’s kind of the point – you don’t know what’s happening until you’re too stuck to get out.
I would also love to read about young Jeffrey Halcomb and his time in Veldt, KS. I have so many questions, and the origins of the cult leader was one of the parts of the book that intrigued me the most. I’m often more interested in the origins of the criminal than in the crimes themselves.
Overall, I give Within These Walls 4/5 for being eerie and dark and making me say “Oh no!” to the ending. And that there was an extra twist at the that I wasn’t expecting. Abandon hope, anyone who reads this, and prepare to walk into darkness. This was my first Ania Ahlborn that I got from the library, and I will be checking out the others on the shelves.