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By Alex Carrigan
It's always terrifying to think about what you might not know about your family and home. The idea that dangerous things could have been hidden from you, or that there's something deep within your genetic build that could come back to harm you has been the stuff of horror tales for decades. We all know tales about people moving into family and/or centuries-old properties and learning about the dark history that has stained the historical setting. The challenge comes from finding new ways to put a spin on these tales.
In her new novel, Liz Butcher attempts to tell a new haunted house story in LeRoux Manor. In the novel, teenager Camille LeRoux moves from Melbourne, Australia to the British countryside when her great uncle passes and wills the family's 19th century manor to her dad. Shortly after arriving, Camille discovers that there's more to the home that meets the eye, and more to the LeRoux family than she previously knew. With the aid of a group of teenagers she befriends, Camille attempts to unravel and document the mysteries of the manor and to understand the root of the oddity.
The appeal of LeRoux Manor is that it has the opportunity to present a Gen Z haunted house story. Camille and her Scooby Gang of friends have a different approach to the supposed hauntings of the manor, immediately leaping at the opportunity to learn more about the house and to document the strange happenings. They're quick to check search engines and local records, use smartphones in a variety of ways to collect information, and they set up a blog so Camille can try to put everything in order as she learns more about the house. As an example, Camille learns that she is the first daughter born in the LeRoux family since the early 1800s, after a fateful day when her ancestor was murdered and his daughter disappeared for good. The group makes sure to document the family tree on the blog, as well as compare it to the family tree of the McAllisters, the siblings who have worked their entire lives on the manor grounds and may know more than they let on.
So while LeRoux Manor has an interesting start and an interesting way to play with the haunting, what does it do with all of that in order to tell a story? Sadly, most of these flourishes don't amount to much in the end. Sure, there's momentary scares like when Camille's friend catches sight of a ghost while FaceTiming her, but it's ultimately window dressing for a somewhat standard ghost story. There are some real temporal oddities involved, especially when it's suggested Camille's ancestor may have skipped decades without aging somehow, which could give the story a bit of a sci-fi edge too.
Unfortunately, without giving too much away, while LeRoux Manor has potential for some interesting ideas, a lot of what follows is a fairly rote story. Many of the characters are flat archetypes for these stories, such as the skeptic friend or the mysterious caretaker. The novel's revelations serve to only make the tale more confusing than interesting, and by the end, there are still way too many unanswered questions or concerns about the story. Part of this comes from the somewhat rushed pace of the story. Camille has her first haunting roughly one day into her new life in the manor, and the rest of the story covers barely two weeks of her life there. There's not enough time to build suspense or an atmosphere, nor is there time to show how this all weighs on her as she's already dealing with the challenge of moving to an unfamiliar environment on the other side of the world. This results in a lot of "spooky" things happening but without giving enough time or weight to certain moments to make it as terrifying story throughout.
LeRoux Manor is a competently written story, but for a Halloween read, it lacks the tension and atmosphere to make a story like this as effective as it could be. There are interesting ideas, but none are as utilized as they could be. This mix of underutilization and a quick pace means that moments and beats pass by as quickly as they appear, making it hard to truly feel like the manor could pose as great a threat as the characters make it out to be. Stories like this should make the reader want to burn down the house and flee as soon as they can, but LeRoux Manor can barely muster the energy to strike the match.
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