Things I know about Harrow Lake:
1.It’s where my father shot his most disturbing slasher film.
2.There’s something not right about this town.
Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker–she thinks nothing can scare her.
But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s quickly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map–and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.
And there’s someone–or something— stalking her every move.
The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her.
Harrow Lake is an exercise in slowly creeping horror, fraught with tension and foreboding which makes use of many classic horror tropes whilst remaining unique and compelling. I thought the concept of this novel was so interesting – the daughter of a horror filmmaker visits the town where he shot his most iconic film and creepy things ensue right from the start. Although I don’t celebrate Halloween, this is definitely a contender if you’re looking for a spooky read for the Autumn / Winter season.
I feel like this book has the perfect recipe for a horror / thriller novel, from the small town setting to the film aspect which seems to blur the lines between fiction and reality and the secrets in Lola’s own family. All of these separate threads come together to form an ambitious story, which is fraught with tension in all the right places and doesn’t let up for even a second. Kat Ellis has done such a brilliant job with the atmosphere and setting in this novel, with every location, character and description being so well done. I don’t get scared or freaked out easily, horror is one of my favourite genres and I watch tons of horror movies all the time, and this book definitely had me feeling some type of way so take that as a sign that this book has some teeth. Literally and metaphorically…you’ll see what I mean when you read it.
The characters themselves are not very likeable to begin with, and this includes Lola, our teenage protagonist. I feel like many readers will find her and some of her mannerisms annoying, especially her tendency to class things as ‘optimal’ or ‘not optimal’ and trust me, it definitely ground my gears a bit too. However, I found myself warming to her as the story progressed and rooting for her, she’s an interesting choice for the main character and I appreciated that she was unique at least. I liked the little things she took from her mother, like writing secrets down and hiding them and wearing her mothers costumes from the film, these small choices just fit into the wider story in a satisfying way and speak to her yearning for her mother, which she doesn’t verbalise but is so apparent. I felt for this young girl who has lost her mother, has an overbearing father and doesn’t really have anyone to confide in and finds it hard to trust anyone.
From the very beginning you get the sense that there’s something not quite right with Lola and her father Nolan’s relationship and this just becomes even more apparent the further the story progresses. He’s extremely controlling and diminishes her at every turn and is clearly hiding a lot from her, especially when it comes to info about Lola’s mother Lorelai who abandoned her family years before. I think these moments and this storyline is where the book goes from a classic horror set up to a more psychological thriller or mystery, as you’re constantly contemplating whether Nolan’s version of events is the truth, whether Lola is losing her sanity or whether there is in fact a far more supernatural explanation to it all.
Speaking of the supernatural element, from the outset you hear whispers of superstition and fear from the residents of Harrow Lake about a local legend, Mr Jitters, a sinister figure who is said to spirit away townspeople unless satiated by offerings. I think the whole concept of ‘Mr Jitters’ or a local legend works incredibly well in the novel to build further tension and adds another layer to the already strange story. I think this is heightened by the fact that even as a reader you can’t tell whether he’s ‘real’ or not, because the townspeople seem to believe it so much and you get drawn into it yourself almost, where a simple tap-tap-tap isn’t just the branch of a tree against the window, but Mr Jitters come to prey.
Overall, Harrow Lake was every bit the captivating, dark thriller I was expecting it to be, as well as an exploration of trauma, both past and present and how it can manifest. I’m excited to follow Kat Ellis’ career from here on out and I’m excited for whatever she writes next, especially if this book is anything to go by because I really liked it. I would definitely recommend this to fans of horror stories and/or psychological thrillers in the Y/A genre, because it’s a refreshing addition to the genre for sure.
Until next time,