The Dead House

by Dawn Kurtagich

Reviewed by SA

Halloween may be over a month away, but one of the most thrilling, blood chilling, though provoking thrillers comes out today, September 15th. It’s one of the most maddening books I have ever read: part psychological thriller, part horror story, part ‘found footage’ if you will, The Dead House will have you checking behind you in the mirror, and leaving notes to yourself on purple post its. It’s terrifying… and electrifying.


Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .
Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.
Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

Carly and Kaitlyn are the same person. Only, they’re not. They may share the same body, but their minds are their own: Carly runs things the day, Kaitlyn the night. They were born like this, two souls sharing a body, and they are used to it. They love each other; they are sisters, after all. They write notes to each other to let them know about their day, to comfort and love the other. Of course, no one can know any of this: they wouldn’t believe them.

And nobody does: after their parents’ death, in an accident they cannot recall, they are places in a mental hospital, where Kaitlyn is repeatedly told she is Carly’s ‘Alter’, that she isn’t real, and that letting go will let her sister heal. Only Kaitlyn is having some problems of her own: hearing voices, seeing things, losing touch…

All this may sound like major spoilers, but it is all established int he first few pages of the book. It’s one of the things that make this novel so compelling: so many stories tucked into one. You have the two sisters in one body; but you also have the question of psychosis, weather any of that is true; and on top of that, the format of the novel, which reminds you there might be more to all this than any one person is seeing.

The novel itself is supposedly the compilation of diary entries, audio and video transcripts, interviews and sessions, all putting in order the events leading up to the looming ‘incident’: a fire that burns down the Elmbridge school, taking the lives of three people and injuring many others. Kaitlyn being the main suspect, it is her life is being pieced together: but how much of it are her real fears, and how much is just the ravings of a lunatic?

That’s what kept me reading the novel with such intensity: the what if. There was a sense, as you read this novel, that really nothing is as it seems. Is our narrator reliable or not? I’d like to say yes, but if I am wrong, then the repercussions on the story are endless. As the other characters join into Kaitlyn’s life, after certain events force her secret to be known to few, the plot becomes more intriguing as the suspect pull grows. The reader is constantly left wondering what is real, what is fake, who can be trusted, and who is not as they seem.

The format that makes the story so varied was a bit of a pain to read, at least in the edition I had. It took a little while to get used to, and I didn’t think it worked at first, especially the video recaps. (I mean, video in written form?). I either got used to it, or it really started working, because it stopped bothering me so much.

While Kaitlyn seemed so read as a character, written with such depth and dimension, that she brought the horror to life, some of the other characters felt a little flat. Anybody outside of Kaitlyn’s head, practically, except maybe Naida. Possibly because everything is either seen a) through Kaitlyn’s eyes, and she doesn’t always like people or b) by transcribing footage, which is impersonal or emotionless. I guess I can’t really blame the book for that!

But this is by far the spookiest book I’ve read in YA, by far. So many questions. Not enough answers! The ending had me clutching my e-reader in anticipation. I had to keep resetting my machine to make sure there weren’t any more pages left.

The Dead House comes out today in the USA. If you want something to keep you up at night, I definitely recommend it.

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