Catriona Ward takes an unsettling angle on horror in her upcoming book, The Last House on Needless Street. (Expected publication date is September 28, 2021.) Ted is a loner to the extreme. He’s got partial custody of his daughter Lauren and enjoys the company of his cat, Olivia. Sounds like a typical dysfunctional family book, until the cat starts to talk. Ted also spends time in the woods with his “gods.” And it certainly gets weirder from there.
Early on, we also learn that police once suspected Ted of abducting a young girl from a nearby lake. The girl’s sister attempts to solve the case since police detectives closed it years ago. Ward writes short chapters from these various characters’ points of view, although Ted gets the majority of the time.
Ward keeps the atmosphere creepy, whether it’s the woods, the house, the neighborhood, or the few external locales. In its own way, the house is a character as well. Ward imbues it with pictures and knick-knacks that might possibly have lives of their own. Plus, Ted put plywood over all the windows to keep nosy journalists out. Now, all these years later, it’s still there. This means that, like most good horror books, we never know what hides in the dark corners.
This is a tough book to review without spoilers. But I will say one thing—all of the characters are clearly damaged in their own ways. Still, the author plays most underlying explanations close to the vest, so be prepared for some upfront confusion.
It took me half the book to fully connect with the characters. I think this is mostly due to Ward’s tendency to leave readers in the dark. However, more details appear in the second half. And then, when I thought I understood everything, Ward threw a couple of strong curveballs.
On the whole, Needless Street demands trigger warnings. It’s indubitably dark. The crux of the story is disturbing and quite sad. Like a good Stephen King book, the monsters here aren’t supernatural creatures. They’re humans with terrible tendencies. Ward draws readers along while concealing which humans are the worst.
My favorite character is definitely Olivia the cat. Including her gives the book a unique layer, and honestly, saved it for me. Olivia adds some humor, her feline way with language, and oh yes, that crush on the beautiful neighborhood female tabby. The other characters aren’t as warm and fuzzy, but ultimately Ward explains why.
In the meantime, this is a strong entry in the genre from a relatively new author. I recommend it for horror lovers who don’t mind a slow burn.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tor Nightfire, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.