The second horror novel by Adam Nevill is a mixed bag. Essentially a haunted house story on steroids, with an impressive back story veering towards the cosmic, the book is sadly weighed down by its execution.
The house in question is Barrington House, a venerable piece of real estate with 24 hour porters and mostly geriatric populace. A young American, Apryl, arrives in London to empty the apartment of her recently perished relative, an octogenarian whose diaries detail her fifty years of living in hell.
Apryl’s chapters, with the gradual reveal of secrets and accompanying horrors, have some of the same spark as Nevill’s later novels, the excellent The Ritual and the genuinely creepy Last Days. Alas, one half of Apartment 16 is taken by the story of Seth, a fledling artist doubling as a nightwatchman, who comes increasingly under the influence of the forces holding sway in the building. Seth’s chapters creep along with a repetitive, dull pace, the horrors he experiences being mostly dreams and other imaginary nonsense. And the ghost he keeps seeing, a hooded, streetwise kid with a speech impediment, is just annoying.
It all picks up gloriously towards the end, though. Seth’s insanity gains full bloom, and the secrets of the house – involving a 1930s artist/occultist who painted works along the lines of Francis Bacon – are fully revealed in a sanity-blasting crescendo that helps lift the novel considerably. But, sadly, it’s a very slow trudge to get there.