I picked up a few J. N. Williamson horror novels on the cheap several years ago, but it is only now that I decided to read one of them. The covers are awfully cheesy, and Williamson does not seem to get a lot of respect or acknowledgement in the horror community, so I did not have high expectations as I entered the "doors" of Horror House. Part of the plot did indeed seem intriguing, namely the inclusion of Thomas Edison in this story. This novel is, to some degree, based on fact, at least insofar as the past events related in the novel are concerned. Edison did work on a machine he hoped would enable him to contact the dead, and apparently there was a house in Pittsburgh whose dark legacy served as the starting point for the Horror House of Williamson's story. The early parts of the novel are not bad, detailing the first acts of grisly murder that took place in the house, then detailing Edison's secret visit there to test his new device and the results he obtained when the machine actually worked. Then we are transported to the present and introduced to our three main characters. Laura Hawks is a struggling writer who takes a job working for a small publishing house run by Ben Kellogg, and the two of them begin work on a book based on the hauntings at Horror House; they are joined by parapsychologist and former Antichrist-defeater Martin Ruben, who quickly discovers that his friends are in over their heads on this one. Oddly enough, none of the ensuing action takes place anywhere near the haunted house. Instead, the story involves the discovery and reactivation of Edison's machine and the dire consequences of this action. Shedding logic and believability all along the way as it meanders to a conclusion, the story boils down to an entrapment of all of the world's evil in a localized area and the decision that must be made by our triumvirate of heroes as to how to proceed in a fight against a seemingly unbeatable foe of Evil with a capital E.
Logic aside, the plot moves along fairly well, and I would not consider Hell House a bad or unreadable book at all. That being said, however, the dialogue often sounds quite forced, and more than once I found myself saying "Oh, for Pete's sake," as a particular debate ran on and on with characters repeating the same arguments ad infinitum. I can't say the characters weren't reasonably well developed, but some combination of their descriptions and the commonly stilting dialogue combined to forestall my efforts to suspend my disbelief and let myself really be drawn into Williamson's story. The relationship between Laura and Ben also holds no real spark, making Williamson's occasional use of love scenes seem somewhat annoying and out of place. This novel could be considered ghost-like itself because there really is little of substance here upon which the reader can take hold. Horror House can serve as a nice diversion, but in the long run it proves quite forgettable.