Audiobook Review: If You See Her by Ania Ahlborn
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (May 5, 2020)
Length: 10 hrs and 11 min
Narrator: Brian Holden
To be honest, there’s not too much to say about this book. I was a big fan of Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In, and I was looking forward to more of her style of slow, creeping horror in If You See Her. The good news is, in terms of the sneak-up-on-you dread and atmosphere, she surely delivered. The not-so-great news though, is that there simply wasn’t much of a plot in this one.
Fortunately, we do start off with a strong hook. Around twenty years ago, three young men went exploring in the old dilapidated farmhouse that sits on an open field off Old Mill Road. A well-known landmark to the residents of the small town of Warsaw, Michigan, the house has a tragic history and is said to be haunted. It was also a source of endless fascination for restless teenagers like Jesse and his friends Casey and Reed, the latter of whom was practically obsessed with the place.
As the book begins, the three were at the house when something terrible happens. Reed dies in an apparent suicide, and the experience has left deep scars in Jesse and Casey’s lives ever since. Now in the present day, the two have drifted apart, but Jesse has remained in Warsaw, becoming a teacher at the local high school. He is also married to his childhood sweetheart, and the two now have a young son. Life might not be perfect, but Jesse thinks he can be happy and finally put the past behind him, until one day, Casey shows up at his door with an invitation to return with him to the abandoned farmhouse on Old Mill Road. Against his better instincts, Jesse agrees to take the trip for the sake of seeking closure for Reed’s death. Inevitably though, being back in the house awakens some long-buried personal demons, both literally and figuratively.
Not gonna lie, this book had some seriously creeptastic moments. The farmhouse was brilliant as a setting, almost becoming a major character in its own right. In fact, I wish we had gotten more of the place, since it plays such a huge role in the story’s past, present, and future. Ahlborn does nail the descriptions of the house though, from its crumbling, overgrown exterior to the malevolent seething force that lurks within. Tensions rose whenever we returned to the place, because it was clear nothing good could come to pass.
The protagonist though, was another story. As difficult as it is to admit, Jesse just wasn’t a very interesting character, and that made it harder to get into the book consider we follow him for the whole time. That said, he’s the self-confessed everyman who has opted to deal with the trauma of his youth by settling for a safe yet mundane existence. He has dreams of writing a book and getting out of Warsaw, creating something bigger and better for his family, but in the end, of course, the house had other plans. Sadly, probably the most interesting thing about Jesse was the way his life ended up blowing up spectacularly and spiraling out of control.
As such, I think this book could have been pared down and worked better as a novella. After a while, watching Jesse flounder became tedious and repetitive, and there was only so much drama involving his family life and work that I could take. The middle sections of the story dragged as a result, and I didn’t feel much of it added to the overall plot.
With tighter storytelling, If You See Her might have packed a stronger punch, but as it is, parts of it feel like a slog punctuated by moments of intensity and true horror. It’s not a bad book by any means, but speaking as an avid fan of the genre and someone who has read Ania Ahlborn’s work before and know what she’s capable of, this just wasn’t enough. Still, I remain a fan and will be curious to see what she writes next, with hopes that it’ll work better for me.
Audiobook Comments: Brian Holden did a serviceable job as narrator, though perhaps his voice is not the best suited for horror. Someone who can bring a bit more gravitas and weight to Ania Ahlborn’s atmosphere-infused prose would have been better, but overall, not a bad listen.