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Hearthstone Cottage Frazer Lee Main

"Hearthstone Cottage" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Flame Tree Press

Hearthstone Cottage Frazer Lee Large

Written by Frazer Lee
2019, 288 pages, Fiction
Released on 24th October 2019

Review:

Being a proud Scotsman hailing from the far northeast of the country, I started Frazer Lee’s Hearthstone Cottage hoping for a strong horror novel and some nostalgia for my homeland. Unfortunately, this very forgettable supernatural thriller, which is set in the Scottish Highlands, fails to deliver on both counts and is a book which left me cold. I also found the occasional Scottish word, which is thrown into the dialogue, such as “laddie” (instead of ‘boy’), to be irritating and nothing more than a half-hearted gesture to the language or dialect.

Four friends, Mike and his girlfriend Helen, along with sidekicks Alex and Kay, travel to a remote holiday cottage in the north west of the Scottish mainland. The cottage is owned by Alex’s very rich dad and the group is celebrating graduating from Edinburgh University. With their lives in front on them, they intend to spend one of their final weeks of freedom before job hunting, having a wild time overlooking a beautiful remote loch (Scottish for lake).

Hearthstone Cottage is told in the third person by Mike, who is such an unlikable and bland character he is a poor choice for a narrator, in fact the combination of all four is an epitome of self-centredness and is as dull as cardboard. Considering there are very few other people in the story, this is a major stumbling block. Perhaps all 21-year-olds are this unlikable, but I could really do without repeatedly reading about their high-class problems like poor Mike moaning about having to get a job in a pub with the possibility of having to pay rent to his parents. All the group seems to do is irritate each other, get drunk, smoke spliffs, have sex and then repeat the process all over again. Rarely have I come across such a tedious group of characters and to be stuck with them for the duration of this story is painful.

On the way to the cottage, Alex hits and kills a huge stag with the rented car and this puts a strain on his friendship with Mike before they even arrive, as he is the cause of the accident. To make things worse, Alex does not care a hoot about the beautiful animal he has killed and is even more ghastly than Mike. There is a certain level of antagonism between the two; Alex is destined to be a lawyer, Mike started out studying the same course before switching to business studies, which is seen as a lesser option. Considering they are friends, they do not seem to like each other very much. The death of the stag does bring a certain level of foreshadowing with it and connects to later events.

That leads to the next major problem: upon arrival at the cottage, so little of any interest has happened. If you’re looking for a scare, or even a mild chill, then search elsewhere, as the horror element is seriously underwhelming from start to finish. Mike drinks too much, begins to hear the voices of children who aren’t there and seems to hallucinate. Beyond that, not much happens apart from the devilment of vague tensions. The four continue to bicker, explore the local surroundings, drink even more, and do a spot of fishing and visit the local village. Because Hearthstone Cottage is written in the third person you cannot call Mike an unreliable narrator, they are always first-person “I” narratives. Perhaps the ‘first person’ style would have added some much-required suspense or ambiguity to proceedings.

The fifth inhabitant at the cottage, Meggie, is probably the most interesting and certainly the most likable character. The sister of Alex, a vegan and art school drop-out with a passion for ancient Celtic folklore, she brings some much-needed mystique to proceedings. It would also be fair to say that Meggie’s dog Oscar also has a bit more about it than the four university graduates. There is a certain friction between Maggie and Mike, which is one of the more notable aspects of the book, and explored in the latter sections.

Considering the book is set in the Scottish Highlands, I failed to get a strong sense of time and place and found the location to lack atmosphere and the descriptions of beautiful lochs and surrounding areas to be superficial and rather bland. At a certain point the group discovers a stone circle and the story begins to show some signs of life, but the supernatural element connected to the cottage fails to deliver any punches of note and the reveals, when they do arrive, fail to fire any sense of imagination.

The novel also throws in a few out-of-body experiences, lots of references to Celtic folklore and mythology, and a taste of witchcraft. Your potential enjoyment may well depend on how you take to Mike and his obnoxious friends. I did manage to finish Hearthstone Cottage, hoping it was going to build to something, but instead it fizzles out.

Grades:

Overall: Twostars Hearthstone Cottage Frazer Lee Small
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Hearthstone Cottage Frazer Lee Small
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About The Author
Tony Staff
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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