What The Dead Want by Norah Olson 

I love a good gothic novel! This book sounded perfect- a creepy house, mysterious disappearances, a family secret…straight onto my TBR list. Plus look at the cover! The hardcover underneath is also really pretty, a pale blue with silver embossed writing.

From the blurb:

A love of photography, an old camera, and countless questions—these are all that sixteen-year-old Gretchen has left of her mother, who mysteriously disappeared years ago.

Now she must return to the place where her mom vanished—a decaying mansion that Gretchen has suddenly inherited from her great-aunt Esther. However, Gretchen won’t find the answers she’s seeking without unraveling the secrets that lurk inside the house. 
There are stacks of photographs and letters from her ancestors that go back centuries, pointing to some kind of haunting past. But when proof of the mansion’s dark history appears to Gretchen in the form of ghostly visions and the soft, eerie whisper of her mother’s voice, there’s no doubt that something sinister has taken place there.

No matter how scared she might be, Gretchen must somehow uncover the reasons why this indescribable force has descended upon her family and find a way to set everyone—even the dead—free.

Gretchen’s mother Mona was an artist, gallery owner and collector of spiritualist artefacts. She spent a lot of time travelling, investigating claims that people had captured ghosts on film. Mona debunked a lot of frauds, but also found a lot of evidence of real paranormal activity. The gallery started to do well, the family moved into an expensive apartment near Central Park, and then Mona went missing…

The media became convinced that Mona’s disappearance was a publicity stunt; the police found no evidence of foul play, and Mona’s family were told that she had most likely just walked away from her life voluntarily.

Then a few years later Gretchen gets a call from her Great-aunt Esther, who she didn’t really remember, telling her that she has inherited a house outside of New York. Esther insists that Gretchen must go to the house the following day, to help her move out, and then hangs up.

Gretchen can’t really remember her aunt, and knows very little about the house. When Gretchen arrives at the house she immediately wants to go home. The house is falling apart, her aunt is behaving very oddly and something just feels wrong. However Esther tells Gretchen that her mother had visited the house just before she went missing and left without saying goodbye. 

Gretchen feels compelled to stay, to find out once and for all what happened to her mother all those years ago.

This is a beautiful book, with lots of “spirtualistic” photos, the story is interesting and it’s quite short at around 280 pages. The mystery behind the mansion and the Axton family was not what I was expecting but it worked.

There were a few things I didn’t like:

  • Gretchen seemed to be defined by her role as investigator as opposed to being a fully fleshed out character.  
  • The photos of George and Fidelia’s portraits – it’s a small thing, but Fidelia was supposed to be a teenager, yet looks about 40, and appears to have a face full of fillers.
  • In a letter from Axton cotton exporters in around 1855, George explains that his workers will unload the goods at Manchester and Lancashire- Manchester was in Lancashire until fairly recently when Greater Manchester became a county in its own right. It’s like saying they will unload at Wichita and Kansas. 
  • I really hate the use of the word “startled” instead of “started” as in where someone is shocked or surprised.This is a common use of the word in American English, but I still find it weird.

Overall it was a well written creepy book.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments 


Stephani Xxx 


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