Book Review by Grace Ellerby
The Voices by Frank Tallis
As a self-confessed ‘avoider’ of anything remotely frightening, I was both intrigued and somewhat apprehensive when I was asked to review Frank Tallis’ latest horror novel, ‘The Voices’. Writing as a former clinical psychologist, Tallis has received various awards for his work including the New London Writers’ Award in 2000.
The book begins in a relatively ordinary manner as Christopher Norton, a film soundtrack composer, and his pregnant wife Laura begin house hunting for the perfect property. As they find themselves viewing a dilapidated Victorian house near Hampstead Heath, Christopher is undeterred by the smell of damp, rotten carpets and sagging ceilings when he discovers the attic room. Its immediate potential to become his ideal recording studio – in which he hopes to produce a cutting edge piece of music – leaves him unable to resist the place.
After reading just a chapter I had convinced myself that a familiar location and a happy, expectant couple eliminated the possibility of the story taking a more sinister turn. Whilst regular readers of horror and supernatural fiction would quickly identify that such a seemingly harmless backdrop is perfect soil for an author to plant unpredictable seeds of danger, I used it to justify putting my mind at rest. On reflection this was embarrassingly naïve of me, as I was soon to discover…
The tension starts to simmer when Christopher discovers strange voices lingering on his recording tapes. Finding no technical faults with his equipment, he begins exploring Electronic Voice Phenomena by which the dead allegedly communicate with the living through the medium of magnetic tape. Captivated and intrigued, Christopher decides to incorporate the ominous voices into one of his compositions, hoping that such an experimental piece of music will get him recognised. Unbeknown to Christopher this venture starts to threaten his family’s security, jeopardizing their hope of an idyllic family life and it’s not long before their whole world deteriorates.
Whilst the fluctuations between the crumbling relationships and dark, ominous horror sometimes seem a bit sporadic, the characters are disconcertingly realistic and many aspects of their lives are plausible, provoking an alarming sense of relatability that is truly haunting.
I established fairly quickly that ‘The Voices’ wasn’t one for reading before going to bed but that very much depends on where you set your benchmark for ‘scary’. To conclude, Tallis’ novel certainly succeeding in putting me on edge. Albeit with my limited knowledge of this genre, I’d say that ‘The Voices’ ticks the three fundamental boxes of a horror novel; it’s gripping, it’s intense and it’s oh so chilling.