They Say A Girl Died Here Once by Sarah Pinborough
Earthling Publications, October 2016
Available: $35 signed & numbered hardcover; $400 lettered edition
It’s time once again for Earthling Publications’ Halloween present to horror readers. For the past 11 years, Paul Miller has given the gift that keeps on frightening; not once has he chosen a story, or author, that has disappointed. Every year, Earthling offers something different– a new twist on the classics, or a story that delves into a dark corner of the genre’s history.
This time, he has chosen author Sarah Pinborough, who has penned novels in various genres but always seems to return to horror, where she originally staked her claim, through a number of paperbacks from the defunct Leisure line, as one of those “writers to watch.”
With the success of Mayhem and The Forgotten Gods trilogy, she proved she wasn’t a flash in the pan. She is a master of thriller writing. Her ability to create a dark, horror-infused atmosphere lifts every one of her novels into a realm few writers have reached. Last year’s Death House pushed her into the ranks of the horror-writing elite, and should have swept the awards.
Now she’s back, with They Say A Girl Died Here Once, a ghost story that is as much a psychological thriller and a mystery as it is a horror novel. This disturbing family drama centers on teenage Anna and her family: her mother, little sister, and grandmother. While the tale of a family moving into a house with a dark past is a common trope, Pinborough sidesteps the expected, and delivers a new take on haunting, dark, family secrets.
Anna and her family have moved into a new town to escape the “thing” that happened to her back home: an incident that has fractured all her relationships, as well as her own sanity. She attempts to fit in with the teens she meets, and to participate in the normal activities of high school. Anna’s mother works odd hours, so Anna is also tasked with taking care of her grandmother, Evelyn, who is in the advanced stages of dementia. Evelyn’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. She begins wandering the house, often winding up at the basement door, and speaking phrases that make little sense. The discovery of what has happened, both in the house and in the town, makes Anna curious enough to delve into the mystery, as she attempts to decipher the words of what has been speaking through her grandmother. What ensues pushes the tale down a new avenue in ghost stories. Each relationship Pinborough weaves is tenuous at best, from the creepy handyman who courts Anna’s mother, to the rebellious friend, to the other teens bent on finding out what the “thing” is in her past.
In lesser hands, They Say A Girl Died Here Once could have been just another ghost story. With her exquisite writing, Sarah Pinborough molds it into something special and unexpected. Her deft hand in creating atmosphere as a character is on display here, along with the individual characters who drag the reader into the depths of her nightmarish visions.
With this author, and Earthling as the publisher, this novel is very much recommended. The only downside is the limited print run, so pick it up quickly.
Reviewed by David Simms