Review: The Residence by Andrew Pyper
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: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Skybound Books | Simon & Schuster Audio (September 1, 2020)
Length: Hardcover: 352 pages | Audio: 8 hrs and 2 mins
Narrator: Madeleine Maby
Although I was a big fan of Andrew Pyper’s The Damned, after a less-than-stellar experience with his next two novels, I was seriously on the verge of parting ways with the author once and for all. But then all of a sudden, The Residence came along and made me glad I decided to give his work one more try. Unlike The Homecoming or The Only Child, whose stories gravitated heavily towards mystery and thriller-driven themes, I felt this one was a return to classic horror with an emphasis on atmosphere building and creating the perfect mood for a good old-fashioned haunting.
Indeed, The Residence is a ghost story, but it is also a historical novel about one of American history’s most overlooked presidents. Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, held office from 1853 to 1857 during a period of growing tensions between the North and the South—tensions that would eventually lead to the Civil War. However, his own personal life at the time was also fraught with emotional turmoil, as just weeks before his inauguration, he and his wife Jane witnessed the violent, gruesome death of their 11-year-old son Benny in a train accident. Losing their last surviving child was a blow from which Franklin and Jane never recovered, and their move into the White House was overshadowed by a pall of grief and sorrow.
Still, it didn’t take long for the couple to notice strange things happening within the halls of their new home. And it’s not just the sound of disembodied voices echoing through the walls or the mysterious noises emanating from the ceilings. Jane was the first to see the child, a young boy so much like Benny, and wonders if the prayers in the letters she wrote to her dead son have been answered. Deeply devout and spiritual, she had also called upon the services of the Fox Sisters, the most famous mediums of their day, to help investigate this shadowy apparition and other mysterious occurrences. In doing so though, they may have inadvertently summoned an unwelcome guest.
As you can imagine, The Residence is a broody horror whose inherent eeriness is only rivaled by its constant sadness and despair. Because of its subject matter, this one presented a challenge to read at times, especially the intro detailing the horrific death of 11-year-old Benny Pierce. Few things in this world are more heartbreaking and difficult for me to read about than a mother’s pain at losing her children, and it was clear from the narrative that Jane felt the last light of her happiness leave the world with her son.
Speaking of which, I had originally expected Franklin to be at the center of this tale, thus discovering Jane’s prominent part in it came as a bit of a surprise, her role at times even overshadowing that of her husband’s. Still, I was glad we got so much of the story from her point of view. While Franklin dealt with his grief by throwing himself into the work of running the country, Jane took the route of quiet seclusion, and I thought it was brilliant the way Pyper handled both their responses. There were also flashbacks to the couple’s past, including certain disquieting moments and experiences in Jane’s childhood which were particularly revealing.
Subsequently, this set the stage for the White House hauntings, and the gloominess that had been established earlier on also helped to accentuate the horror and tensions, making what happens next feel even more dreadful and disturbing. Indeed, one aspect of the writing I enjoyed was the handling of the horror elements, which the author applied sparingly and with a light touch, giving just enough to pique the reader’s imagination.
Suffice to say, I spent most of my time reading The Residence feeling like I was on pins and needles. Arguably, the book contains minimal value as a historical novel, but as a ghost story, it sure raises the gooseflesh and sends chills up the spine. After all, there have long been tales and reports told throughout history of specters and spirits haunting the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Andrew Pyper has succeeded in writing a novel that supplements this body of mythology while offering additional insights into why these kinds of stories continue to captivate and enthrall us.