To Kill a House
Suzanne Roberts | Lancer Books | 1973 | 285 pages
Leaving her estranged husband behind in New York, Marra Manning travels to Ireland to inspect Kerrington Keep, an ancestral castle willed to her in an inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather. Perplexed by the cool reception she receives from the townspeople, she discovers that she bears an uncanny resemblance to her historical namesake, Marra Kerrington, mistress of the castle centuries earlier. The previous Marra was responsible for the murder of dozens of members of a rival clan, an infamous act that reputedly drives the spirits of the victims to haunt the estate’s Great Hall today.
But historical deaths are not the only ones plaguing Kerrington Keep. Prior to Marra’s arrival, a watchman fell to his death through a secret trap door off the Great Hall, leading some superstitious types in the village to fear that Marra’s “return”—through the presence of her descendant—will lead to a new cycle of death and mayhem at the castle. Further, some of the estate’s current tenants have claimed to hear moaning emanating from the Great Stones, the cellar brickwork beneath the castle, and to have viewed ghostly figures walking the halls. Marra also faces a threat from the human realm, when she receives a threatening letter demanding that she abandon Kerrington Keep and return to America at once—or face the consequences of an imminent death.
After her only real friend in town mysteriously vanishes, Marra begins to question the trustworthiness of her motley group of residents: the overly protective grandmother and her “amnesiac” granddaughter, the socially withdrawn professor (and former mental patient), the housekeeping couple who lost a child, and the roguishly handsome actor, whom she fears will test the limits of her failed marriage—if she allows herself to fall under his romantic spell. Rejecting the notion of a ghostly cause for her troubles, Marra draws upon the strength of her notorious ancestor to uncover the motivations driving one, or more, of them to seek her removal from Kerrington Keep.
The appeal of To Kill a House lies not so much in the scares the story delivers, which are few, but the atmosphere of growing suspicion and mistrust surrounding Marra. The characters all seem to be harboring secrets; an overheard snatch of phone conversation, some newspapers left in a tenant’s room, and unexplained lights in a basement window all, in turn, point an accusatory finger towards one or another. Marra’s appeal as a heroine grows as she finds the resolve to stay at Kerrington and face the growing danger herself—until she exasperatingly squanders all her newfound mettle by writing to her husband in New York, asking him to come to Ireland and become head of the estate in an effort to make their marriage work.