Book Review – ‘The Visitors’ by Catherine Burns ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort.  A timid spinster in her fifties that still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side.

I’d been drawn towards this book during my Kindle Unlimited subscription earlier in the year but never got around to actually reading it.  As my current subscription draws to a close I thought that October was the perfect time to read this book as just reading the description gave me a sense of unease. The book started out strongly with an instant sense of horror in the engrossing opening pages.  The fear seeps into every facet of the story: in Marion’s terror of their secret being discovered, in the identity of the mysterious visitors, the question of what it is that John doing to “help” them and the question why Marion is so scared of her brother.

The story is narrated by Marion and moves between the past and present, offering us a glimpse into their childhoods and how they came to be where they are today; a dysfunctional brother and sister in their fifties, both childless and unemployed, living together in the family home they grew up in. For most of the book little information is offered about the visitors and they remain a secretive and almost ominous element that, like Marion, we don’t really understand.  The author maintains an element of eeriness and foreboding throughout the book and the more we learn about the characters and events, the more that atmosphere grows and we empathise with Marion’s dilemma at both wanting to have their dark secret discovered and trying to protect it at all costs.

The characters in this book were well written and very relatable.  Marion is a cowed, anxious, repressed woman who is stuck in her childhood.  She grew up starved of the physical or emotional affection she craved and was convinced by her mother that she is too stupid to do anything and better behind the closed doors of the family home as the world and everyone in it are perilous. You feel sad for Marion as she grapples with wishing for more in life; for love, children, friends and the courage to live the way she’s too scared to.  She’s the victim in this story and powerless to help either herself or the visitors, who seem to terrify her as much as her overbearing brother. John’s character is your typical bully with a penchant for violence and perversion.  He frightened not only Marion but even their parents from being a teenager and no one has ever been able to control him. He therefore has always been able to do whatever he wants with little in the way of consequences, making him even more terrifying as he knows he’s untouchable and that he can make Marion bend to his will through intimidation.

After John suffers a heart attack Marion is finally forced to face the truth that not only does he keep the visitors in the cellar, but also the sickening reality of their conditions and plight. The final chapters are the most disturbing part of the novel but also the most gripping.  I’d found this was a book I didn’t want to stop reading from the start but the final chapters made it impossible to put it down as I had to know how things would end.

The Visitors is a riveting and scary debut novel. It is the first horror book I’ve read and I think I’ve been converted to a new genre in reading it.  I’ll end this review with a quote from the book that I found haunting:

“Sometimes when you hurt a living thing it could drain away some of the hurt that was inside you…

Out Now.

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