In Her Blood by Nikki Crutchley – 2022

Hotels are great thriller/mystery/horror settings – lots of corridors with lots of rooms, lots of creaky staircases, lots of people passing through over many years leaving stories and ghosts, and lots of places to hide bodies! In Her Blood uses this to great effect. Jac Morgan ends up staying at the Gilmore Hotel in Everly, a small town near the Waitomo Caves. She has reluctantly returned to her hometown in response to a text from her father saying her sister, Charlie, is missing and that no-one seems to care.

Jac runs into Iris Gilmore when fleeing the town campground, her arrival there coinciding with the discovery of a body in the river. The Gilmore has not been a working hotel since it was used as a hospital for servicemen during and immediately after World War Two, but Iris commandeers Jac into helping clean it for the annual Gilmore Hotel Open Day. At the hotel, Jac discovers that her sister isn’t the only young woman to have disappeared in Everly.

Twenty years ago, the Gilmore Hotel was home to sisters Paige and Lisa, both musicians with promise, but each receiving quite different treatment from their mother, Iris. Iris was a domineering woman with long-held sorrow – and a fixation with room 12A. When Jac meets her, Iris is still domineering, but starting to lose her grip, and living half in a fantasy world regarding her long-disappeared daughter, Paige. Her remaining daughter, Lisa, has recently come home to care for her mother.

Jac spends more time in the hotel than she would like, busy with her cleaning work, but she is still determined to investigate Charlie’s disappearance. She is not welcomed back to Everly, as she left under deep suspicion. The local cop is not eager to put any effort into finding Charlie. Charlie had been living with her drunkard aggressive father in a caravan at the campground, and she was cursed with “a surname that was synonymous with tragedy and gossip”, there is evidence that she might have just had enough of Everly and left – but Jac isn’t convinced.

When Paige disappeared from the Gilmore Hotel twenty years ago, there was evidence then that she too might have left of her own free will. But the police investigated Paige’s case thoroughly, and the townsfolk helped with the search, including Nathan, a young gardener at the hotel. Nathan is still working at the hotel twenty years later, and he has a close bond with Iris. Despite the lack of official interest in Charlie’s case, Jac finds clues and suspects galore for who might have abducted Charlie. The story is told from the points of view of Jac, Charlie and Lisa, and is set in the present and twenty years ago – allowing the reader to solve the mystery multiple times, and still be wondering who the culprit is!

In Her Blood makes the most of the gothic elements of an old and crumbling hotel, which has long been the source of ghost stories for the local children – many scenes are candle-lit, or dimly lit, people are often seen emerging from shadows, strange sounds are heard behind walls, people are locked in dark rooms. The plotting is an emerging reveal, with tension added by the up-coming Open Day – as the anniversary of Paige’s disappearance, it is an obvious impending denouement. All the main protagonists are damaged in some way, holding grudges, being terrified of fire, being overly possessive, or desperate for affection or approval. Jac reflects on her own history and her waste-of-space father, and she worriesLike father, like daughter”.

The depiction of abduction is dark and creepy – having to wear someone else’s clothes and underwear, emerging from a stupor to find your ears have been pierced. There is appalling treatment of children through the novel, by parents dealing with their own demons. And there are the intense bonds between siblings, the bitterness when one decides to leave the other, the guilt of the one who manages to get away.

Each of the main characters punches through their demons, the woman terrified of fire sees it as her escape, the one who throws her all at mollifying her continuous threat ends up turning into that threat, and the woman who starts thinking the world is full of people who have seriously lost their way, realises she is the only one who can find “their way out, a new beginning”. In Her Blood is intriguing, horrific, creepy, and a gripping read – as skeletons, literally and figuratively, gradually emerge from the crumbling hotel. Another excellent piece of #YeahNoir.

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