The unsettling tropes are here: is Ted on his meds and why does he need duct tape? Yet for all the deliberate echoes of Psycho and The Shining, Ward’s ambition is closer to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The reader is in her hands but never feels manipulated — this is horror with integrity. Revelations are not exploited merely to shock but to let us see what is really going on. Dee, the sister of the girl who vanished, moves in next to Ted to spy on him but she may be barking up the wrong, bone-white tree.
Dee moves into the house next door to Ted, who she believes murdered her sister some years earlier. Ted lives with his daughter Lauren and cat Olivia, and the story unfurls from the viewpoint of all four characters, including the cat. The book sits in that twilight margin between psychological thriller and Gothic horror, with Ward, twice the recipient of the August Derleth Award, beautifully wrongfooting the reader every step of the way.
Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street, which opens 11 years after a little girl vanishes on a family trip to a lake, comes emblazoned with glowing – and much-deserved – praise from her fellow authors: Stephen King, no less, calls it the most exciting novel since Gone Girl, and “a true nerve-shredder”. It is the story of a child whose life was stolen, of Ted, the man who may or may not have done it, and of Dee, the sister out for revenge. That might make The Last House on Needless Street sound straightforward – it’s not. This is the most gloriously complex, shifting story, deeply disturbing yet also, somehow, heartwarming.