Ania Ahlborn “Within These Walls” Review

Posted: March 8, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized
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Publisher: Gallery Books

Length: 464 Pages

Release Date: April 21, 2015

eARC provided by Netgalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review

Within These Walls tells the story of Lucas Graham, a true crime writer who went from being on top of the world with bestselling books and interviews on major talk shows to finding his marriage crumbling around him and his success all dried up after not releasing a hit book in ten years. Lucas feels like a failure and can see everything important to him slipping away, but his life changes when he receives a letter from Jeffrey Halcomb, a notorious cult leader who is currently in prison for life following what appears to be a satanic ritual that left 10 people dead. Halcomb has avoided interview requests for years, his silence making his legend grow even as interest in the case waned. He offers Lucas an exclusive interview to give his side of the story since he admires Lucas’ ability to bring the past to life, but only if he follows three conditions: all interviews must be done in person, Lucas must move into his old home on 101 Montlake Road in Pier Pointe, Washington and everything must be completed within four weeks. For Lucas, this letter seems like a beacon of hope, the chance he needs to get his career back on track and attempt to save his marriage.

Lucas seizes his last chance at redemption and moves out to Pier Pointe with his young daughter Vee to immerse himself in Halcomb’s world but realizes that something feels off about the house. His first night in the house he hears strange noises coming from the kitchen that sets him on edge and sees a shadow in the darkness. This sense of unease is also felt by Lucas’ daughter, who also begins to see apparitions and develops a fascination with the history of the house that threatens to tear her from her father forever. When Halcomb backs out of his agreement with Lucas, it upends his world and makes him desperate to finish his book by any means necessary. As the pressure mounts and Halcomb’s deadline grows closer, he discovers something far more sinister than he ever expected.

The structure of Within These Walls was a risky choice because the novel alternates between chapters told in the present from both Lucas’ and his daughter Vee’s point of view and sections set in the past from the point of view of one of Halcomb’s followers, Audra Snow. In addition to the timeline shifts, there are occasional references to snippets from police reports, paranormal investigations and news reports. While there was the potential for the plot and pacing of the novel to suffer from these timeline jumps and interludes, Ahlborn weaves these elements together masterfully. Each plot thread offers its own contained narrative, but the sections compliment each other when you realize the events Audra describe help bring light to the unsettling occurrences that Lucas and Vee experience in the Montlake Road house.

The characterization in Within These Walls, much like Ahlborn’s other works, is the highlight of this novel. I loved how Ahlborn handled Halcomb’s character. Though the story revolves around him and the crime he committed, the reader doesn’t really see anything from his point of view, but rather gets a glimpse of who he is through the eyes of the other characters. By seeing him through other peoples eyes, we see what made him such a powerful figure and why people were so eager to disengage from their past lives and follow him in his nomadic existence. Ahlborn also crafts a downright creepy back story behind Jeffrey’s past that sent chills down my spine!

Then there is the portrayal of Audra Snow, the daughter of a congressman who was one of the last people to join Halcomb’s group. She is living in her parents summer home, pregnant and trying to get her life together. She struggles with depression due to her uncaring upbringing and feels that she is not worth anything. That all begins to change when she meets Halcomb and the rest of his group. Initially it is a man named Deacon, who Audra bonds with over their similar lives of parents who provided them with all the material possessions they could ever desire but never the love they craved. When he explains that Halcomb’s group is her ticket to not feeling alone, Audra is drawn in to a world unlike anything she could have imagined. Despite the red flags that pop up in her mind when she learns more about the group’s beliefs, Audra pushes them aside for the promise of acceptance.

While Within These Walls offers plenty of scares and supernatural occurrences, the real terror comes from the very realistic portrayal of the cult-like nature of the group and the evil that resides within its members. The novel slowly builds tension throughout Lucas’ investigation, but as the mystery of Halcomb and his plans for dragging Lucas halfway across the country begins to reveal itself, Ahlborn ramps up the action before unleashing a clever and unsettling plot twist that left me stunned.

Within These Walls is an immensely engaging novel with the perfect balance of atmosphere, horror and mystery that make it a must read for any dark fiction fan. I couldn’t help but get sucked into the world Ahlborn created and frequently found myself saying “just one more chapter…” while reading, which is when I knew that I held a truly great book in my hands. What always impresses me about Ania’s work is the depth of her writing and diversity of each novel. There is the straightforward thriller The Neighbors, the creature-filled The Shuddering and her bleak haunted house novel The Bird Eater. Now with Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn crafts a multi-layered novel that highlights her strengths as a writer and cements her as one of the genre’s most exciting authors to read. This year is going to be a good one for Ahlborn with the release of this stellar novel and the release of Brother and the novella The Pretty Ones later in the year, both of which are definitely on my list of most anticipated reads of 2015.

Rating: 5/5


Ania Ahlborn’s Official Website

Gallery Books

Purchase Within These Walls on Amazon

  1. hookofabook says:

    I love her!! Nice review!!

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