Desolate countryside, a lonely cottage and the ghost of a boy and his dog endlessley wandering the moors…
I can’t resist a spooky tale and had been coveting this book ever since I first saw it shared on Twitter. So with the nights drawing in and the first of the blustery autumnal weather arriving, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to read The Haunted Hills. And let me tell you, it is genuinely unsettling! With my children in bed and my husband at work on his night shift, I found myself looking over my shoulder and listening out for every little noise inside and outside the house. I nearly had to stop reading a couple of times which is not like me just because it is so eerily atmospheric.
Nothing has been the same since March 13th. Carl is staying in the Peak District with his parents to try and recover from the fallout of a horrific accident. Consumed by grief, Carl has lost all sense of purpose and with no TV or internet at the remote cottage, he begins to wander the countryside aimlessly. Until one day he wanders too far…
Carl realises he’s lost on the moors, dusk is falling and the threat of inclement weather is imminent. Every which way he turns the landscape looks identical. Soon it will be completely dark and he’ll be stuck out there alone – no phone, no food or shelter. But out of nowhere, Carl spots a figure – a boy he thinks – and a dog. ‘Take him home’ says the boy and the dog begins to trot in front of Carl, urging him to follow.
Miraculously after following the dog for what feels like forever, Carl spots the cottage lights twinkling in the distance and he’s greeted by his very worried but equally relieved mum and dad The dog however is nowhere to be seen – as if he’s vanished into thin air…
The next day, Carl wanders to the neighboring farm. Al the farmer has rented the cottage out to his parents and they’ve agreed that helping out with the animals and labouring jobs that need doing might occupy his mind. Curious as to the identity of the boy and his dog who steered him to safety the night before, Carl begins quizzing Al as to who the mysterious pair could be. It’s then that Al relays the tale of The Lost Lad, a lonely figure who, along with his dog, haunts the hills around the farm and cottage where Carl is staying.
Unnerved by Al’s story, Carl’s mind starts to play tricks on him; a face reflected in the windows, a figure hiding in the trees, a presence in the cottage. Past and present collide, Carl must learn to come to terms with the loss of his best friend, Jack and find a way to move on. As his mental health deteriorates, the line that separates the real world and the spirit world becomes blurred. Are the hills actually haunted or is Carl being chased by his own demons…?
The portrayal of grief, depression and regret in the story was so honest and raw and in this sense, it had all the feels of The Hunt for The Nightingale or Furthermoor. We are reminded of the fragility of the human mind and how emotional trauma such as grief can completely consume a person as Carl’s confusion and disconnection from the world around him reaches crisis point. Toxic teenage friendships and peer pressure are also explored as Carl recounts the events leading up to March 13th and those he has tortured himself with ever since. For these reasons, this is the perfect book for Year 7 and 8 upwards.
I think I found this tale so eerie because it could be true! In Berlie’s author notes she reveals that The Lost Lad story, is based on something that is said to have really happened in the Peak District many years ago. I’m familiar with Ladybower Reservoir and the crash site of the WW2 Bomber at Higher Shelf Stones – both of which feature in the book – so images of these bleak locations flooded my mind as I read and sent shivers down my spine.
After reading The Haunted Hills I’ve added two of Berlie’s other novels to my Want to Read List; The Company of Ghosts, which is about a girl abandoned on a haunted island and The Snake-Stone, about a boy who searches a valley in Derbyshire in the hopes of meeting his birth mother – more ghosts and the unsettling wild landscape, these sound perfect for Autumn.
The Haunted Hills will be published on 6th October by UCLan. With thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for approving me to read an advance copy of this superb book.