Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the release of a terrifyingly tense new psychological thriller- The House– from Simon Lelic.
Tantalise your crime tastebuds with this exclusive extract…
Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.
So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.
Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door…
When my hand slips from the knife, my first thought is that using it wasn’t as difficult as I assumed it would be. I feel elated, initially, until I notice the blood. It flows quickly, determinedly. It stains my sweatshirt, my trousers, even the floor, and that’s when my elation turns to fear. It’s gone wrong, I realize. This thing I’ve planned for so carefully: it has all gone drastically, horribly wrong.
The police were outside again last night. I watched them in the alleyway from the spare- bedroom window. They couldn’t have seen me. I’m fairly sure they couldn’t have seen me. And anyway, so what if they had? It’s not like I was doing anything wrong. It’s perfectly natural, isn’t it? Like the way motorists slow down to get a view of an accident. Probably the police would have assumed it odd if I hadn’t been watching. I mean, I couldn’t tell from where I was standing, but I bet the rest of our neighbours were all watching too. All with their lights off. All cloaked discreetly by their curtains. What I didn’t like was the impression I had that everyone out there was also looking discreetly at me. That the police being out there, at that time of night, was all just a show. A reminder.
God, this is hard. Harder than I thought it would be. It’s knowing where to begin as much as anything. I’m not Syd. I know what she thinks, what conclusions she’s drawn already, but I don’t process things the way she does. If she had gone first, I don’t know where we would have ended up, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had a clue about where to go next.
I guess for me the only logical place to start is the day we first saw the house. This was back in April. It’s September now. The fourteenth. At 3.17 in the morning, to be precise. Syd’s in bed, but I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. I doubt she’s sleeping either, to be honest. I don’t think she’s slept properly in weeks. Me, I drop off easily enough. Every night I don’t think I’m going to, but it’s exhaustion, I suppose, the weight of worry. Tonight, though, our decision made, I just wanted to get on with it.
There’s a lot to get through and not a lot of time.
The open day, then. I suppose it has to be, though there’s very little about the day itself that was unusual. I recall how busy it was; how many people, when the time came, narrow- shouldered their way through the front door. Because there was a queue, you see. Not a line, but one of those messy, I- was- here- first scrums you see at bus stops. We’d arrived forty minutes early and already there were half a dozen couples ahead of us. But that wasn’t uncommon. Not for a house viewing in London. The strange thing was that it wasn’t just the house that was up for sale. Whoever bought it would also be buying everything the house contained. And once Syd and I had got inside, we saw that the entire place was stuffed with junk. Actual dragged- home- from- the- skip junk. Books, too, and clothes, coats, pictures on every square inch of wall, boxes stacked heedless of shape or size, plus furniture big and small in every crevice. It was like a live- in, life- and- death version of Jenga.
Oh, and birds. Clearly the current owner was into dead stuff. Taxidermy: doing it, hoarding it, I couldn’t tell. There was a hawk, a seagull, even a pigeon amid the scattered flock. Syd must have noticed them, too. I remember being surprised she didn’t turn around the moment she did and walk straight out.
The story the estate agent gave us was that the owner had met a woman on the Internet. She lived in Australia, apparently, and he’d dropped everything to run off and be with her. Just like that. He’d been approaching retirement age anyway, but even so he chucked in his job, abandoned his friends and signed over his house, dead pets and all, to the estate agent to sell as one bumper package. Which made a good sales pitch, I suppose, and accounted for the state of the place, but personally, right from the off, I just couldn’t see it. I mean, what sort of person would do that? And, setting the storybook explanation aside for a moment, why?
So yes, that was odd, and for me more than a bit off- putting. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I’d fallen for the house itself. I mean, the layout wasn’t a problem and there was more than enough space (lounge, kitchen, separate dining room, plus one, two, three bedrooms, not including the unconverted attic). The building, though, it was creepy. There’s no other word to describe it. The garden was overgrown and the paintwork about as attractive as a skin complaint. The house stood alone (‘detached’, marvelled the brochure) as though it had been shunned. There was a row of terraced houses on one side, huddled together as though for safety, and a block of flats with its back turned on the other. It looked, and felt, somehow ostracised.
So I suppose all I’m saying is I didn’t like the place. All that junk, the building itself: it just felt wrong. The problem I had was that Syd was clearly smitten. I knew she would be. She knew she would be: it was Syd who’d found the house on the Internet and who’d insisted we arrive at least half an hour early.
‘ So- oo,’ I remember her saying to me, once we’d finally finished looking around. ‘What do you think?’
We were in the lounge, beside the fireplace. I remember this older guy kept staring at me from across the room. I was conspicuous in trainers and a T- shirt, whereas all the other blokes my age wore a collar, pressed jeans and polished brogues. They were City types, basically, or, like the man who kept staring, fathers of spoiled little rich kids. And probably that was the other thing that was stopping me sharing Syd’s enthusiasm. It had taken Syd and me more than two years to scrimp enough for a deposit, whereas most of the couples we were up against had likely earned theirs from a single bonus. So on that playing field, with London rules, how could the two of us be expected to compete?
‘I think it’s like The Hunger Games,’ I answered uncomfortably. What I meant was that bit in the film before the action starts, where the contestants are drifting around, pretending to be friends, to be allies of whatever, when really they’re just itching to kill the crap out of one another.
Syd looked at me blankly. I knew for a fact she’d seen the movie at the cinema, but her memory about stuff like that isn’t the greatest. She smoked a lot when she was younger and I’m not talking Marlboro Lights. She did a lot of drugs, actually. I’m not saying I’ve never dabbled myself, but there’re certain people they affect more than others. Syd had a difficult upbringing. Horrendous, actually, so bad that she’s still never told me the whole story. And when, later on, she had her troubles, the drugs I reckon played a part. She says they didn’t. She says all the damage had already been done. But weed, coke, pills, what have you: that stuff definitely leaves a mark.
‘Just . . . all these people,’ I explained. ‘I mean, I knew there’d be other interest, but nothing like this.’
Syd slipped her hands around my waist. ‘Forget about everyone else for a moment. What do you think about the house ?’
I paused for half a second too long. ‘I like it,’ I said at last. ‘I do.’
‘But . . . nothing. It’s just . . . it’s kind of dark, that’s all.’
I think Syd assumed I was merely playing my role, in house- hunting as well as in life. Syd dishes out her affection as though she’s sharing wine gums, whereas I trail stoically beside her, kicking tyres and knuckle- tapping walls. It’s rare that I know what I’m wary about exactly (what’s actually supposed to happen when you kick a tyre, other than the reverberation in your toes?), but it’s a part I’ve somehow settled into. It’s what men do, I’ve learned from somewhere. My father, probably, who could suck the joy out of riding on a rollercoaster. Plus, as I say, Syd definitely needs a counterweight. It’s why we’re so good together. She stops me gazing at my feet so much; I stop her floating off into the sky.
‘That’s just the weather,’ Syd countered. ‘All these people. Plus, I mean, have you seen all of this stuff?’
I was half expecting her then to mention those birds. She didn’t.
‘There’s an attic, too,’ I said. ‘If the rest of the place is like this, what must it be like up there?’
Syd glanced towards the ceiling. I joined her, worrying in that moment whether the whole building was liable to suddenly cave in.
‘Well,’ said Syd, ‘we’ll just have to hire a van or something. A man. Assuming we can still afford it.’
She smiled then and tucked a stray strand of hair behind a perfectly formed ear. In the house in which I grew up there was this blossom tree outside my bedroom window. Cherry, apple, I’ve no idea. It flowered pink, but never actually bore any fruit. The leaves, though, were this deep, rosewood brown, which came aglow when caught by the light. Syd’s hair, which she never dyes, is exactly the same colour.
‘Jack? I’m not going to make you live somewhere you don’t want to. If you really don’t like it, then let’s just leave.’
It wasn’t a guilt trip. Syd genuinely meant what she’d said. So maybe I should have said something. Maybe I could have put an end to it all then and there.
We did leave . . . but in the end we put in an offer as well. Just for the hell of it. And, I’ll admit, because Syd was clearly head over heels and I wanted her to be happy. Besides, what harm could it do?
I didn’t love the place, but I didn’t hate it exactly, and anyway we couldn’t afford it. The mortgage we had agreed wouldn’t even get us to the asking price and the details stipulated offers over. So there was no way we’d get it, not given the level of interest. All those people, with all their money . . .
I felt safe because we shouldn’t have had a chance…
Simon Lelic is the author of The House, Rupture (winner of a Betty Trask Award and shortlisted for the John Creasy New Blood Dagger), The Facility and The Child Who (longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger and CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2012).
The House is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.
Simon is married, with three young children, and lives in Brighton, England. Other than his family, reading is Simon’s biggest passion. He also holds a black belt in karate, in which he trains daily.
You can follow him on Twitter @Simon_Lelic.
The House is available to buy here