For me what makes a movie scary is what you don’t see rather than what you do and it’s exactly the same with books. I want mystery and suspense, strange noises in the middle of the night, a glimpse of something in the corner of your eye, unexplained disappearances and suspicion of those around you. Getting the right balance between suspense and action is difficult but I have to admit Monster by C.J. Skuse gets it almost spot on.
This story is set in a boarding school and follows a small group of girls who find themselves having to stay at the school over the Christmas holidays as their parents either can’t get to them or are too busy for them. They aren’t exactly happy about being stuck with each other but things take a turn for the creepy when a heavy snow storm arrives, matron goes missing and the phones go dead. They are left stranded and alone miles from the nearest village with no way to get help. When they start hearing strange noises during the night it seems something may be hunting them but is it the beast from local legends, something or someone in the woods or could it be someone inside the school. The girls have to put aside their differences and pull together if they want to survive.
I thought this was a really enjoyable and gripping story and it kept me guessing throughout. Was it the beast, someone more human or was the whole thing in their imagination? The pacing is very good and the tension and suspense build and build until a pretty explosive conclusion. I found myself shouting instructions at the characters, “phone the police”, “run” or “don’t go out there alone” but that is part of the fun of a good horror/mystery story. It definitely had me on the edge of my seat at times.
There is a fairly good mix of characters amongst the girls including rebel Maggie who is desperate to be expelled, Dianna the school brown nose, Clarice the mean girl and Regan the outcast. The story however is told from the point of view of Natasha (Nash) who is 16, a long term boarder and favourite to become head girl at the school. She is the do gooder, bossy, know it all who pretty much runs the school but somehow manages to be likeable. At the start of the book her brother has gone missing, Clarice has it in for her and Dianna is trying to usurp her position in the school. Safe to say she is a bit stressed so having to take charge pushes her pretty much to the edge and made me question what was real.
The one criticism I did have of this book was that I thought some of the girls backgrounds were unnecessary and unrealistic. They didn’t really add anything to the story and I would have preferred something a little simpler but that’s probably just me.
Overall it’s a great page turner that I couldn’t put down so I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a creepy story full of tension and mystery.
Big thanks to the wonderful people at NetGalley and Harlequin UK for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The story will be published at the end of September.