Off the Shelf Book Review: The Dead House

Off the Shelf: The Dead House

By Billy O’CallaghannArcade Publishing ISBN78-1-948924-56-6 2017 200 pp.
Review by Terrence J. Kenneally

Prolific Irish author John Connelly’s most recent work is titled Shadow Voices. It is the story of genre fiction-horror, romantic fiction, crime writing, ghost stories and more. Irish writers historically have given the world Gulliver, Dracula and the world of Narnia, all books dealing with some form of genre fiction.

Unfortunately, in recent years, genre fiction books have experienced a decline in numbers in Ireland, as well as increasing criticism of the form by more mainstream writers of traditional fiction. As Connelly writes, “genre fiction remains the problem child of Irish literature, too readily capable of being dismissed as secondary or incidental to literary fiction.”

The problem the naysayers of genre fiction have, however, is that it is very difficult to find literary fiction that does not include some shape or form of genre components. This month’s Off the Shelf work is the Dead House, a debut novella, and an example of Irish genre fiction.

There is nothing quite like a good ghost story. The story is told in first person from the point of view of art dealer Mike Simmons. One of the artists whose work he sells is Maggie, who has recently purchased and renovated a pre-famine cottage on the wild Beara Peninsula in County Cork. It is a perfect place to get away and paint, a place for her to heal mentally after her last boyfriend put her in the hospital. 

The story is centered on one fateful night, during a weekend house party, which included Mike’s future wife, Alison, and another friend, Liz. At Liz’s suggestion, they decide to play around with a Ouija board. Their festive atmosphere shifts rapidly to one of darkness and dread as the improvised shot glass spells out one word after another in Irish and English.  Maggie begins speaking in a stranger’s voice, that of a sinister presence, telling a horrifying story of hunger, depravity, murder and suicide.

Things happen that night that none of the people in attendance want to acknowledge. Later, back in London, Mike begins to worry that he has not heard much from Maggie. He decides to drive up to County Cork to check on her. What he finds is disturbing to say the least- and what follows is enough to chill the warmest heart.

I rate The Dead House a TOP SHELF selection.

*Terrence J. Kenneally is an attorney and owner of The Kenneally Law Firm in Rocky River, Ohio. His area of the law includes Insurance Defense. He received his Master’s Degree from John Carroll University in Irish Studies and has taught both Irish Literature and History.

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