There’s something in Leigh Harker’s home. It lurks in the shadows of her bedroom watching her with round unblinking eyes, its booming footsteps filling the night air as it waits for Leigh to fall asleep. So begins The Haunting of Leigh Harker, the newest novel from prolific Australian author Darcy Coates. No stranger to hauntings and things that go bump in the night, Coates uses this novel to play with perspectives and ghost story expectations in fun and refreshing ways– be forewarned, discussing this book pretty much demands spoilers, and this isn’t a book you want spoiled before your first read, so if you’ve any interest at all I suggest you read only this paragraph and the next, as paragraph three onward will feature minor spoilers for the purpose of discussion.
The Haunting of Leigh Harker wastes absolutely no time introducing the supernatural. The scares begin immediately, and it’s an incredibly effective opening amidst the seemingly endless slow-burn ghost stories and ambiguous hauntings that inhabit the genre. What also stands out right away is the use of the first-person present perspective, which makes everything feel more active and tense than anticipated. Rarely do I find something truly creepy, but there are definitely moments in the first third that worked on me thanks to the tension that is lent by the perspective and the unrelenting, near-constant paranormal activity Leigh experiences early on.
Unfortunately, I do think the book loses steam in the second act. Following a major reveal the haunting nearly dissipates, and the middle third of the book becomes, for lack of a better term, cozy. This segment of the book combines elements of a domestic drama and a cozy mystery– Leigh and her companion get wrapped up in investigating the house’s past, and almost all of the anxiety and nervous tension of the first third dissipates in favor of depressing realities for Leigh and Sarah alike.
I imagine there’s a huge number of readers who will adore this switch, especially those looking for a comfy and spooky fall read, but the first third was so engaging that I kind of wanted that atmosphere and vibe to continue. The radical switch in tone is a risk, and one that a lot of people will appreciate, but it felt like too much of a pressure release for me. The book doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first hundred pages again. Things do ramp back up, but the stakes felt lower the second time due to the nature of the first act twist.
On the plus side, the final third of The Haunting of Leigh Harker does veer back towards the tone of the first section, and while it isn’t quite as strong as the first time around, the imagery is still pitch-perfect. Coates uses the smaller details of the house’s sinister happenings to build the horrific motifs that make up the haunting, and the way these details fit together is pretty great. Add in thematic reflections on isolation, family, and reconciliation and you’ve got an atmospheric, powerful fall read.
Rating 7.5 out of 10 Quilts