The Last House on Needless Street, by Catriona Ward
It looks like a horror story. It feels like a horror story. It has all the trappings of a horror story. But it’s so much more.
The Last House on Needless Street pivots around a day “eleven years ago” when Little Girl With Popsicle went missing after an excursion to a popular lake north of Portland. Little Girl With Popsicle was the headline under her picture in the paper, but her name was Lulu.
Was. By now, everyone assumes she is dead. Everyone, that is, except for her older sister Dee, who is still haunted by the hope that Lulu is still alive somewhere. Somehow. She continues to hound the police investigator assigned to the case, and has built her own investigation. And now she thinks she’s honed in on the kidnapper.
But this book really belongs to Ted. Ted Bannerman. Much of the book is told through Ted’s viewpoint.
Ted lives alone – well, except for his cat and occasional visits from his daughter, Lauren – not too far from the lake. He’s lived in that house all his life. He used to live with his mother, but she’s gone now. He’s a loner. His windows are all boarded up, and he has three locks on his door. He’s unemployed, out of shape, unkept. His house is a mess. He’s a mess. He doesn’t get out much, except sometimes to slip into the woods.
He’s also strange. Not right in the head. Simple, but functional. He was a suspect in the disappearance of Little Girl With Popsicle, but he had an alibi. Nevertheless, his house was searched. They didn’t find anything. And yet… and yet….
It’s the “and yets” that drive this book, that make it eerie and off kilter. It insinuates horror, accentuated by disturbing actions that seem to have no bearing on the storyline and yet feel so very menacing. You don’t quite know where what you are reading is going to take you, but it doesn’t feel comfortable.
At other times, there is a weird kind of humor built into strange premises, such as when you enter the point of view of Ted’s cat, Olivia. Of course these passages are off base because, well, you’re seeing from a cat’s perspective, but even then you have to scratch your head. Olivia is very much a cat and yet, for example, she’s convinced that the LORD (always in capital letters) has given her the purpose of looking after Ted.
And just about the time you think you’ve figured out a character – major or minor – something happens, just a little something, usually, that has you wondering. That keeps you off balance.
Then all of a sudden, the book takes a turn you never expected. And then it does it again. And again. Not “gotcha” moments, but “wha…..?” moments. They don’t have you guessing as much as have you wondering. And as the book builds to a spine tingling conclusion, you realize that yes, you are reading so much more than “just” a horror story. That’s all I’m going to give you on that.
It’s frankly wonderful and very well crafted. I tend to shy away from horror but this book had me fully vested, even though there were some truly horrific things that occur. It’s a great book to hunker down with and devour. Highly recommended.
— Sharon Browning