British author Cottam (Dark Echo) makes his U.S. debut with a riveting supernatural thriller. A decade earlier, while on a research trip to London's notoriously haunted Fischer House on the Isle of Wight, psychically sensitive journalist Paul Seaton barely escaped a demonic entity that occultist Aleister Crowley had summoned in the 1920s. Now, Paul investigates a new tragedy: four unfortunate philosophy students encountered something so foul at Fischer House that it killed one and threatens the sanity of the three survivors. The only way for Paul to help the students and redress the shambles that his life has become since his nightmare experience is to return to Fischer House and lay the evil that still stalks the grounds. Cottam evokes influences that range from Dennis Wheatley (who has a minor role) to Shirley Jackson, and conjures a mood of paranoia perfect for Paul's unsettling adventure. Rich in atmosphere, the book builds to a shattering finale. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The House of Lost Soulsby F. G. Cottam
Just weeks after four students cross the threshold of the derelict Fischer House, one of them has committed suicide and the other three are descending into madness.
Nick Mason's sister is one of them. To save her, Nick must join ranks with Paul Seaton—the only person to have visited the house and survive. But Paul is a troubled man, haunted/p>
Just weeks after four students cross the threshold of the derelict Fischer House, one of them has committed suicide and the other three are descending into madness.
Nick Mason's sister is one of them. To save her, Nick must join ranks with Paul Seaton—the only person to have visited the house and survive. But Paul is a troubled man, haunted by otherworldly visions that even now threaten his sanity.
Desperate, Nick forces Paul to go back into the past, to the secret journal of beautiful photographer Pandora Gibson-Hoare and a debauched gathering in the 1920s, and to the dark legacy of Klaus Fischer—master of the unspeakable crime and demonic proceedings that have haunted the mansion for decades.
Because now, the Fischer House is beckoning, and some old friends have gathered to welcome Paul back. . . .
F. Paul Wilson, author of the Repairman Jack series
"A mad spiral of mystery and horror, totally engrossing and richly evocative of the decadent twenties, The House of Lost Souls is a remarkable debut."
Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child
"The House of Lost Souls is an elegant ghost story that will keep you up all night and haunt you long after the last page."
Carol Goodman, author of The Night Villa
"Energetically reviving a neglected genre, Cottam delivers convincing chills alongside engrossing and highly cinematic heroics."
"A riveting supernatural thriller. . . . Rich in atmosphere, the book builds to a shattering finale."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Echoes of The Blair Witch Project resonate throughout this chilling novel. Cottam's ... adrenaline-charged prose is drawn tight with suspense."
Financial Times (UK)
"In this brilliant and chilling novel real events in the past impact on the present and a terrible sense of foreboding will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page."
Lancashire Evening Post (UK)
"F.G. Cottam employs old-fashioned suspense combined with modern horror imagery to produce a fine example of the genre."
Times Online (UK)
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The House of Lost Souls
By F. G. Cottam
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 F. G. Cottam
All rights reserved.
Hull, October 1995
Nick Mason thought it ironic that he had always been so skilled at the covert aspect of the craft. Not so much skilled, really, as talented. He had a natural aptitude, an instinct for concealment. He watched his sister, pale at the graveside, from his hide a hundred feet away and it never even occurred to him that he might be discovered and compromised there. He knew how good he was at doing this. The proof lay in the fact that he'd done it so often and was still alive.
It was ironic because he had never thought to employ these skills in carrying out surveillance on his own flesh and blood. But there it was. There he was. Here he was, spying on his little sister. His instinct told him there was every reason for doing so. He was doing it for her own good. And ironic or not, it was bloody convenient to possess the sly and patient cunning necessary to do it so successfully.
He'd gained the expertise in the 1980s in Northern Ireland. They loved a burial, the Paddies did. They loved a martyr properly honoured and, to Mason's mind, were melancholy by nature, always hankering after a proper excuse to mourn. All the major players attended the big ones. And you learned a lot from the body language, watching them pay their respects to one another. You watched them greet one another and offer their condolences and you learned about their hierarchy. And so he'd seen a lot of IRA heroes go to their final resting places, hidden in hides just like this one, sometimes feet away from the boyos posted as sentries, sometimes close enough to smell the breath on them from the steadiers they'd sunk in the pub on the way to the church.
He had to admit that this particular funeral was different from any of those, though. There was his sister, for a start, a pale, broken little presence in her black coat, with her clasped hands and the grief running in raw streams of redness down her face. She'd wanted to come on her own. He'd had to respect her wish to do so. It was why he was smeared in cam cream and wearing enough webbing to conceal a sniper in a combat zone. It was why he was dressed in jungle fatigues and had remained entirely still for two hours now in a narrow depression behind a thick cluster of twigs and thorn bushes adorned by an orange and russet litter of October leaves.
It wasn't just his sister that made it different, though. Watching the funeral procession walking to the graveside had been for Mason like watching a film with several of the frames missing. The light was odd and there was a jumpy quality to the way the mourners moved that made it hard to keep track of what was going on. Funerals usually had their own morbid choreography. Even when they buried one of the boyos in Belfast, the event had always possessed the same slow, deliberate decorum.
Here, one of the pallbearers had staggered from under the burden of the coffin and vomited with his head twisted away from the procession and his hands on his knees as soon as they exited the church. The other bearers had looked as sallow and nauseous as their colleague had, lurching and struggling on. The parents had not appeared to notice. Mason, mindful of the manner in which the girl had taken her life, tried not to look at the parents. But the priest followed the coffin like a man striding towards his own death, stiff-legged and sweating, gasping out the liturgy in little gulps of breath.
There was something not right about the sound of the ceremony. The church bell was a muffled, sporadic clang, dim-seeming as though travelling an impossible distance before being heard. If he really concentrated, he could just make out organ music, emphysemic from under the church rafters. But odd melodies kept drifting over it, reminding him of the piano rags and vapid crooning his old grandfather had liked to listen to.
The light was odd. Twice, the jump-cut procession of clergy and mourners and undertakers seemed to fade to black and white in their progress and when this effect occurred, it seemed to Mason that he was watching men in top hats and starched collars carry a black casket on a sombre march to oblivion through a throng of mourners massed in broadcloth and gabardine.
He rubbed his eyes. There was nothing wrong, Mason knew, with his eyesight. When he looked again, the procession was normal. And the dead girl on her final journey had reached the edge of her grave. The weather was strange. There was a fitful wind that swirled fallen leaves in cones and eddies like kaleidoscopic little whirlpools on the grass between headstones. This wind was unseasonably warm, as well as capricious. It carried a light scent, too, Mason thought, subtle but rank. Oddest of all, though, were the girls. There were three girls mourning their dead friend. Strictly speaking, there were two girls and a woman, because the American student was a few years older than Mason's sister and the student from Merseyside. But there should have been three figures recognisable as students in their youth and togetherness and grief, shouldn't there? Except that Mason kept counting four.
He knew about pattern recognition. It was one of the most useful of the disciplines the army psychologists had drilled into the men operating in the field. Nature was random. Organised human behaviour wasn't. The IRA liked people to think that their cold assassinations were spontaneous acts of valour, but everyone knew they were rehearsed until perfected. Pattern recognition could enable you to spot the nondescript car you saw too often in your rear-view mirror, or the bland face that passed yours too frequently on the street. It could help you to come out the winner against a fruit machine, or complete a crossword puzzle miserly with its clues. It could also, on occasion, save your life.
Mason's training insisted that the pattern at the graveside was wrong, that it was somehow out of kilter. But if he tried to concentrate on the mourners he seemed to lose some of the detail in heat ripple, which was ridiculous, because it was a damp day in late October. There was no heat ripple. There were bereaved family members as stiff-limbed as the walking dead, and there was a fearful-looking priest and burial professionals sallow with some kind of collective sickness. And there was a mourner too many among the girls. He risked moving a hand to wipe his eyes, which were gritty now with sweat and leaf fragments blown into his face by the wind. And he began to feel the ground beat underneath him like impatient hands, cold and flapping.
He had never worried overmuch about death. He had killed three men in Ireland and two in Central America and never given any of them another living thought. Colombia had been a contact, a legitimate firefight, ambushed by foot soldiers from the Medellin cartel when the regiment had been helping out the Yanks with their marching-powder problem. The training had kicked in and he'd scored two hits. It had been kill or be killed. Northern Ireland had been what it was, the Province and its long and dirty, often clandestine war. He'd had nothing to be remorseful about. They'd even given him a medal. None of it had ever troubled his conscience. And he could honestly say that he'd never been frightened.
But Mason was frightened now. And he was spooked. He looked up and through dim ripples of light, thought he saw a team of snorting, black-plumed horses crossing the cemetery pulling a glass coffin mounted on a carriage hearse. He blinked and the apparition was gone, but the ground still seemed to throb with horrible life underneath him and he knew that it was his own pulse, thumping, his whole body cold and urgent now with foreboding.
Then he heard his sister scream from the graveside. Sarah screamed. And the sound pierced Mason's heart in his hide among the tombs with its terror and its bewilderment, carried to him on the stink of the sorry autumn wind.CHAPTER 2
Paul Seaton knew it was back when a gust of rain lashed with vindictive fury at the windows of the bus he was on. They were halfway over Westminster Bridge in a stalled procession of bleary rush-hour traffic. The squall shuddered at the bus windows and left them dripping without. It rocked the old Routemaster on its springs. And Seaton knew. There was nothing unusual about rain in London on a raw evening early in November. It didn't signify anything other than itself and the bleakness of the season. But Seaton knew then that the thing he'd almost come to believe he had escaped was back, had returned to seek him out. He stood and threaded through the obstruction of standing passengers there on the lower deck and stepped from the tailboard on to wet London pavement. The wind whistled through the gaps between the bridge balustrades, the rain it drove soaking his trousers from the knee so that the fabric gathered and clung with the rhythm of walking against his shins and calves. The cloth of his trousers felt cold and greasy and he was aware of rain scouring off the river into his hair and the collar of his coat.
Since he was headed south, the famous view, the sweeping fairytale of House of Commons and clock tower was behind him to his right, obscured anyway by the throbbing convoy of buses. The river was to his left. But he resisted any temptation to look at that. He didn't look at the river until he reached the foot of the bridge and descended the steps to the Embankment under the pale stone gaze of the Southbank Lion. He risked a glimpse at the statue on its plinth, at the lion's fierce and familiar head. Rain ran through its stone mane and dribbled from the corner of an eye.
The river dimpled under the rain. Seaton shivered, already soaked. He looked up to the lamps strung along the Embankment, for comfort. But there was nothing cheerful this evening about their light. The tide was uneasily high and the water close and pale in the cast of the lamps. There were old mooring rings in lions' mouths in lions' heads all along this stretch of the Thames. They were green and imperious with algae and invisible, now, in a strung pride of bronze along the bank beneath him. When the river was high, it rose to reach the rings in the lions' mouths. It was how you measured the height of the tide. Now, he thought, tonight, the lions guarding the bank beneath him were surely engulfed. The river was drowning them. He fancied he could hear the dim clank of their rings against the current.
He looked at the water. The dark width of it was stippled in ribbons of urgent force. In other places it was black and still. Odd bits of debris carried past him borne on the current, half-sunk, ambiguous in the rain and the cast of light from the lamps on the bridge. As he stood and watched, his eyes were taken by a patch of something on the river surface, its shape shifting, more a contrast in texture than a solid object, whatever it was absorbing rather than reflecting any light. From out towards the far bank, it drifted closer. It began to look like the dark material of a garment, a floating slick of tweed or gabardine, a coat lost on a bad night to lose one. Only would cloth stay on the surface like that, Seaton wondered, as the shape in the water wallowed and shifted, resolved into a meagre body, the scant ballast of the corpse keeping the fabric that wrapped it only just afloat. Then, still thirty feet from him, the shape seemed to sigh in the water and it sank from sight and further speculation. There was an odour on the rain, a long-forgotten river smell of coal tar from chugging funnels and hemp and oil spillage in the lapping scum. Then, like the ghost it was, that odour, too, was gone.
He shuddered in the rain seeping through his clothes and flesh and dampened bones. And he turned away and raised the collar of his own coat hopelessly, about to head for home on foot, with no great distance to travel and everything in the world to try to come to terms with. Except that the music stopped him before he was able to take a step. Seaton stood, quite unable to move, his skin crawling with gooseflesh, listening at the river's edge to the mournful drift of the song. The melody was old, even elderly. And it was familiar. In a high tenor, with the crisp enunciation of an evening around the wireless, a voice from sixty years ago was singing 'I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now'.
If I turn around, I'll see a Thames party boat, Seaton thought, antic figures partying through the glass and condensation in the lights of its long cabin. It was November, after all, and the run-up to Christmas had begun and the works celebrations were already beginning to occur.
Except that he knew in his heart he wouldn't turn around and see anything of the sort. There wasn't any party boat. He could hear the shellac of the old recording crackling with static under the needle of an antique gramophone as the song grew louder from behind him through the rain. The song was playing for an audience of one. The last thing he wanted to see was whatever sight might accompany it. And instead of turning around, he found he was able to move his feet away from the river and the sound, and so he answered in his mind the question posed by the title and lyric, instead. I don't know who's kissing her now, he admitted to himself. All I know is that it isn't me and won't be, ever again.
The feeling of foreboding aboard the bus had been very strong. And when he got home, the message light was flashing on his phone. He got messages very seldom. And so he dismissed all thought of rationalising that gabardine-clad corpse he thought he might have sighted in the river.
Home to Seaton was a one-bedroom flat on the top floor of a seven-storey block in Waterloo. The building was dilapidated, served by a single, piss-haunted lift that seldom functioned for more than a few consecutive days without breaking down. Tonight, though, it was working. He unlocked his door, trying not to be depressed by the smell of stale occupancy familiar to cheap spaces indifferently let. He could see the phone message light blinking out of the corner of one eye as he closed the door behind him. It cast a green, intermittent glow from the sitting room. The wind was stronger up here and he could hear rain spatter hard against the sitting-room window. The view through that window was the principal reason he had taken the flat. The location had appealed for sentimental reasons. The rent had been an important factor. But what he could see from a window the width of the sitting room had been the clincher. He had ignored shabbiness verging on squalor for the sake of his view.
He walked on into the room, past the beckoning phone, looking out and down at the night. The block was at the southern end of Morley Street. Seventy feet beneath where he stood, a neat boundary garden with a low perimeter wall gave on to St George's Road. Directly opposite, there was a terrace of four-storey Georgian houses. Immediately to the left, the bulk of the Catholic cathedral massed and brooded. A block beyond the terrace, over to the right, he could see the dome of the Imperial War Museum, cleverly lit by its floodlights through the stir of trees surrounding the old building. To the rear of the cathedral, the lights of a bar were a small patch of yellow brightness across from the museum grounds. It was a failed pub, gaudily repainted and rechristened Zanzibar. Seaton went there some evenings. He had preferred it when it had been a pub. But the beer was cold and the staff were friendly enough. This area was strong with associations still familiar from his happy past. Usually, he took great comfort in them.
Behind him, the green glow of his message signal nagged at the gloom. As it would continue to do, until the content of the message was revealed.
I could always erase it, he thought. A swathe of rain bleared the glass in front of his face and made him blink and recoil slightly. And what, precisely, would erasing the message achieve? It might buy him an hour of queasy ignorance. These things were best confronted, weren't they? You could not hide from them. The decision made, he was trying to will himself away from the window when the phone behind him began to ring.
He ignored it. He just waited until it stopped. And then he turned and went across and played the message.
The voice of Malcolm Covey.
'What I have to say concerns the Fischer house.'
A few items of dull furniture occupied the room. Two of these were armchairs. Seaton dumped himself heavily in one of them. Covey had paused, perhaps for effect. But more likely it was to allow Seaton to accommodate himself to the shock. It was coming on for twelve years since he'd seen or heard from Malcolm Covey and in nine words, the man had got right to the point.
'I'm sorry to intrude on you. But there really isn't a choice. Like you, probably, I was under the assumption that the place had been long demolished. But apparently it hasn't been. A party of students went there a couple of weeks ago.'
Excerpted from The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam. Copyright © 2007 F. G. Cottam. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
F. G. Cottam lives in Kingston-upon-Thames, England. After a career in the magazine world, he is now a full-time novelist.
F.G. Cottam was born and brought up in Southport in Lancashire, attending the University of Kent at Canterbury where he took a degree in history before embarking on a career in journalism in London. He lived for 20 years in North Lambeth and during the 1990s was prominent in the lad-mag revolution, launch editing FHM, inventing Total Sport magazine and then launching the UK edition of Men's Health. He is the father of two and lives in Kingston-upon-Thames. His fiction is thought up over daily runs along the towpath between Kingston and Hampton Court Bridges.
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What a superb book-and an author I am going to watch for! I was reminded throughout of the joy which reading John Harwood’s “The Ghost Writer“ brought to me. “House of Lost Souls” has that same slowed-down, gentle, “Between the Wars” pace, that same sense of barely-concealed secretiveness, the sense of mysteries piled in on themselves like matruska dolls. So many layers atop layers in this book, and every one a marvel. This is a book worth reading, buying, and keeping for reread. “House of Lost Souls” is a tapestry in which no thread is left loose or unwoven. Ranging from the first decade of the 21st century, back to 1983, to 1937, 1983, 1927, and returning to the present day, Author F. G. Cottam teaches that time is indeed simultaneous, and what affects an earlier era also inevitably impinges on our contemporary period as well. Ghosts, evil, black magic, historical figures, demons from beyond, and much more revel throughout this wonderful novel. Not missing either are marvelous characterisations, interpersonal relations and conflicts, friendships, sibling amity (doubled!) and so much additional. This book is nearly perfect. Aleister Crowley and Hermann Goring frolic through the pages, against the backdrop of a charismatic German who builds an estate purposely to summon and capture a demonic being. I highly recommend this book, and am on to enjoy Mr. Cottam’s several other novels.
I found the wonderful thing about Cottam's book is that he didn't give it all away at the beginning, or middle for that fact. There were twists and turns all the way throughout the book. The most difficult part of the read is being an American reading a book written by someone from the U.K. I did have to look up several words that are not commonly used in America, but enjoyed learning new words. The book is spooky and unsettling...that's why I purchased it to begin with and was not disappointed!!! Got job Mr. Cottam!!
This is one of the spookiest ghost stories I've read in 20 years! Love this author!
This book was riveting from beginning to end. Definitley Riveting from beginning to end.
Mr. Cottam does it again! Weaves a story that haunts you, frightens you, yet makes your heart soar when good overcomes the most abomimable evil. Characters so real, you feel you know them. You wont be bored by this book. This author has mad writing skills! I get lost in his books and dont want to put them down. J. Peters