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on 13 December 2009
F.G. Cottam makes a pretty solid start with this debut novel, a gothic horror show, a detective story and a love story entwined; it is a story within a story within a story.

Four young female students and their tutor have been subject to a bizarre and horrific experience at the derelict Fischer House, one of the students has died as a result and the others are mentally damaged. At the girl's funeral attended by her three friends, the brother of a survivor is spooked by something he sees and detemines to do all he can to help his sister recover.

In London meanwhile, Paul Seaton is a man with a past and not much else going for him right now. He is approached by Malcom Covey, who seems to know a lot about the events at the Fischer House and enough about Seaton to persuade him to help the brother and sister overcome whatever it was she experienced. Seaton is reluctant, this is too close to his past catching up with him, but he has an unexplained affinity with the girl's experiences and, anyway, Covey is offering him enough money to make it difficult to resist.

Seaton sets off to meet the tutor, then the girl and her brother, and Cottam now begins unravelling Seaton's past. Here is our first story within, the background that explains Seaton's emapthy with the girl and his reluctance to get involved this time. As Seaton's life unfurls, Cottam unwraps his second embedded story, one of debauchery, crime and Satanism set in the 1920s.

Cottam sets himself no mean task with such a complex interweaving of threads, but does enough to hold it together and keep it moving apace. He often displays his journalistic rather than literary skills, for example I found his pre-occupation with itemising every music track and artist Seaton hears, and he hears a lot, increasingly annoying. His device of a discovered journal to expose the events of the 1920s is formulaic, and it is more a novel itself rather than a journal, but I nonetheless found the unravelling of that story quite gripping, as was Seaton's detective work to find it.

Overall a pretty good opener and I will certainly read his next.
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on 8 June 2011
I read this within a matter of days, could not put it down. Whilst not the scariest I had read , it certainly had some creepy descriptions and evoked the 1920s era well. Really enjoyed it and would recommend, my only caveat the ending, but I can count on one hand from the thousands of books I have read in my lifetime, novels which have a satisfactory ending Hence the 4 star
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on 22 October 2009
What starts out as a beautifully written, spooky, really quite unsettling tale of the Occult and Black Magic takes a turn for the worst about a third of the way in when the narrative flashes back 12 years and unwisely stays there for nearly the duration of the book. The details in these pages could've easily been shoehorned into 2 chapters and as a result it could've been so much more pacier and entertaining. It's a shame as Cottam has so obviously spent a long time developing rounded, troubled characters.

Additionally the ending is really frustrating, I wanted to be scared witless by the events leading up to it, yet I felt like a lot of other people "oh is that it?"

disappointing, but definitely an author to look out for in the future.
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on 27 October 2012
Let it be clear from the outset: Cottam can write, when he wants to. Open the book to a random page and arbitrarily select a paragraph and you'll likely find something akin to this:

"He had not traveled much in the English countryside. But he had been packed off to far-flung parts of Ireland as a schoolboy. Some of them had been wild spots, remote places rich with Celtic myth. They didn't lack atmosphere. They were wildernesses, some of them studded with standing stones. They were places of obdurate inexplicable mystery. They were charged with the questions their existence posed about the lost rites for which they had been chosen and constructed. But nowhere in Ireland had made the spine tingle and the throat dry the way this dense and silent forest was doing to him now."

There's nothing wrong with that, and much that is right--"obdurate," for instance, works well in this context, and most people would not have thought of it. Throughout the book's prose often impresses one as a cut above that of the typical first novel.

But what doesn't impress is the derivativeness of the plot. For reasons I won't go into (no spoilers here), the main character must return to a haunted house which left him deeply traumatized the first time round (Legend of Hell House, anyone?), but owing to his discovery of a long-lost diary (wow, that's never been done before...) he's better prepared this time: thanks to that diary he now knows that Denis Wheatley was a satanist and Aleister Crowley was a Very Bad Man indeed. There are spirits who cannot rest until their bones are properly buried, nasty entities which cannot cross running water, and a coven-load of other stock characters and associated clichés.

Even when it's not annoyingly familiar the plot has a way of collapsing without warning into startling silliness at crucial structural points. Take the ending. Having created a convincing supernatural antagonist (no small accomplishment, and the slowly accumulating sense of unseen menace is one of the things Cottam indeed does well here) the author seems to have been unable to think of a similarly convincing supernatural means of overcoming it. So he provides the hero with a companion in the form of an ex-SAS man (the Service is never mentioned by name, but it's implied) who goes all Rambo near the end. To be sure, there are indications early on of the level of silliness to which Cottam is capable of descending. In the opening we're told that a group of postgraduate philosophy students from an unnamed but "legitimate" university in Surrey ("It has a charter. It receives government funding. It awards recognised degrees," a rather defensive character assures the doubting reader) has foolishly spent a weekend in the haunted house as part of an investigation into the claim that "particular locations could infect individual people with what society calls evil." You think I jest? I do not. Mr. Cottam clearly hasn't the faintest notion of what research questions actually concern university philosophy faculties these days, or, for that matter, of how a modern university works. It's not that hard to find out things like this, and the fact that Cottam couldn't be bothered to do so will leave some readers feeling insulted. Don't get me wrong: neither academia nor the supernatural need to be directly experienced by an author in order to be convincingly and effectively rendered in prose. But each of these deserves to be more intelligently (and responsibly) imagined than it is here.

I'm giving this three stars rather two as a way of acknowledging what I think Cottam might be capable of were he less cynical and disdainful of his readers. As it stands, the book is best thought of as proof, if proof is needed, of the truism that being able to write is not the same as having something to say.
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on 31 July 2012
'The House of Lost Souls' is an intelligently-written occult novel which, although flawed, engrossed me. The story involves one man's battle against demons - his own, and one supposedly spawned in the 1920s in the sinister Fischer House on the Isle of Wight.

The author has a talent for atmosphere. There is eeriness and a chilling, other-worldly feeling here. The depiction of Paul Seaton's mental breakdown was convincingly portrayed and the feeling of being inside this haunted character's head was quite disturbing. Other characters, such as the old priest, Lascalles, were also well-portrayed, as was Pandora , although I felt that not enough was made of her photography (she was forbidden to bring her camera to the Fischer House) and why she was so drawn to this dubious company in the first place.

As other reviewers have noted, I found the level of detail when it came to 80s music and lifestyle interfered with the story. I lived in London myself in the 80s so at least it was of passing interest personally, but I imagine it would have been very irritating to someone with less connection to the time or place. Although I enjoyed the atmospheric writing relating to the house and the occult or paranormal events, some words were overused - "decay", for one. In the 1920s section, I also felt that too many "known 1920s anchors" were flung into the mix as a way of reminding the reader, just in case they hadn't noticed, that we were in the 1920s - from Al Capone to The Jazz Singer. Related to this, I wasn't sure that using the real figures of Crowley, Wheatley and Göring was the best device. Crowley, maybe, but the other two I didn't find credible - perhaps it would have been better to have fictional characters based on these.

I was disappointed in the climax. Much of what had happened before to Paul was far more eerie and chilling, and I'm afraid that the monster (warning, slight spoiler) came across as nothing more than some punch-drunk boxer stumbling around the old house.

Despite these criticisms, there was enough in "The House of Lost Souls" to interest me in other books by this author.
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on 24 August 2012
Back in the swinging sixties, Paul Seaton persuaded his then girlfriend to let him help her with her Art History dissertation, despite her concerns over cheating. As he researches the story of the 1920s flapper girl who took the photographs she is studying, he unearths her journal which follows her account of her stay at a remote mansion, the Fischer House, and her participation in an occult rite along with Crowley, Wheatley, Goebbels, and other historical occult characters from the period.

Now his past has caught up with him in the form of a present-day request from a friend to investigate a series of incidents involving girls who have lost their minds after visiting the now partly derelict house.

Told using a combination of present-day scenes, flashbacks to the 1960s and journal entries, the House Of Lost Souls is an intelligently written occult novel that starts off better than it ends. The opening scenes of a paranormal investigator being approached to assist with the incident, descriptively populated with shadows and the slithering sounds of unseen entities outside the door listening in, are almost worthy of Lovecraft and create a promise that is never really fulfilled. The story heads in a Wheatley direction and finally ends up more of a ghost story and the tale of one man's obsession with the girl he is researching.

I found the author's decision to mention in detail whatever music happened to be playing in the background while the characters were talking in any given scene a bit too much - the musical references are almost constant and aren't really linked in with the plot.

Still, it's a good read and despite waning off towards the end the story has an eerie plot involving a dark, terrible ritual undertaken by the questing occult intellectuals of the 1920s that keeps one turning the pages.
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on 18 November 2013
This is the 3rd Cottam novel I have read after 'The Colony' and 'Dark Echo'. As with those books, this is an engrossing read from start to finish with some genuinely creepy moments. Unfortunately, as with the previous 2 novels I`ve read, Cottam seems unsure how to end his novels and this also gets a little boring and confusing towards the end. Shame really. Up to that point I couldn`t put it down. I love how he tends to go more for narrative than dialogue. Makes the story unfold better.

Still, minor gripes aside, Cottam is worth checking out.
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on 23 October 2008
I agree with the reviewer who disliked the opening chapter of The House of Lost Souls but once that was overcome, the novel had me in its bony grip and it was read within two days. F G Cottam can create unease and atmosphere so vividly and I could feel my scalp prickle when he described Wheatley's appearance on the battlefield. Abomination was truly described, and this is a novel not to be read at night!

Having read some of Dennis Wheatley's work, I have often wondered how deeply he delved into Satanism and this novel confirms those suspicions. Cottam writes about the 1920s and 1930s vividly, and you can almost smell the heavy scents used by both men and women of the time.

I gave this novel 4 stars as I felt the ending was something of a let-down, as if the author was in a hurry to complete the novel. Up until the final chapters, the novel was unputdownable, so this was disappointing. Another gripe was the author's ambivalence towards the Irish: one minute accepting, the next damning. Perhaps this should have been downplayed and the author's prejudices kept to himself? The central character of Paul Seaton is a deeply troubled soul, but that should not be written off as Celtic whimsy and a propensity for alcohol.

Cottam's next novel looks like an intereting read, so I look forward to seeing whether the critics consider it a fitting follow-up to The House of Lost Souls.
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on 20 June 2013
Brilliant book by a brilliant author.
The massive void left by the death of James Herbert may now be filled with this new master of British horror!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 February 2013
As many ghost stories do, THE HOUSE OF LOST SOULS centres around a house - specifically, a house which was being investigated by philosophy students exploring the idea that places can be affected by evil if evil acts are committed there. Without wanting to give too much away, the main drive of the book revolves around our protagonist revisiting this house years after his first encounter there leaves him fighting insanity. There is also a mystery which dates back to the 1920's, which he became obsessed with, and it is this mystery which helps him face returning to the house.

That is all of the synopsis I will give away. Although I have probably made it sound disjointed, it isn't, it's just hard to go into the plot details without giving elements of the main story away. There are enough elements to make the story interesting and to keep you reading; many parts are genuinely scary too. But, I felt that there were flaws to the book, which ultimately let it down. The biggest of these is the ending. As another reviewer has said, what starts as a scary entity becomes little more than a joke. This aside, the book was a fairly easy, quick read.
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