Book Review: The House on Blackstone Hill by Antonio Ricardo Scozze
I think that I've finally hit my stride when it comes to these book reviews. After juggling some things around in my writing schedule, I've been able to fit in reading a new novel over the weekend for a posted review by Monday. With the fall semester starting, plus my 10 week professional copy-editing certification courses beginning this week and my 71 module self-publishing marketing program underway, I won't lie...I was struggling! I figured Monday would be the perfect target day for my book review posts. After all, we all need a break on Mondays!
This novel though...it should have had a warning label. There are topics discussed within that are not for the faint of heart, such in-depth descriptions of content that even some of the most hardcore horror readers may shy away from.
The House on Blackstone Hill was published on August 26, 2020 at just a little over 200 pages, and is on Amazon Kindle Unlimited, as an ebook for $3.99, and as a paperback for $9.99.
I attempted to look up information about the author, but there were no dedicated author pages on Amazon and this was the first published work. I was able to find a blog and a Facebook page solely containing information on the production of this particular work. One recurring theme presented itself across the blog and the back book matter of The House on Blackstone Hill that I found intriguing:
Extraordinarily little is known about Antonio Ricardo Scozze, the mysterious writer who appears to have knowledge of an esoteric world of horrors that is intertwined with our own. All that is known about him for certain is that he lives and writes in a small community called San Michele Vittoroso, and that all his writing is an attempt to pull back the veil on these hidden eldritch terrors.
There is, however, a "you might also like the works of" at the end of the book that mentions a Mark L'estrange who has written quite a number of horror novels. Looks like I might be venturing through one of his works next to see if the writing styles are similar. Though I must say, I do appreciate the mystery that the author is trying to create; it contributes quite an ominous tone to the novel itself.
Where do I start?
I'm almost scared to start this.
After finishing the novel last night around 11pm, I had to take a step back and walk away from my Kindle, turn on some lights and decompress. The material within these pages is heavy. It isn't scary in the sense that I felt like something was going to crawl up from under the bed and grab my foot if it stuck out of the blanket. The novel itself weighed on me because I am a mother. If you have children, I advise you to make the decision to read this book with absolute caution. The pit in your stomach will sit with you long after you finish.
Child rape. Sodomy, to be precise. Incest. Not for the faint of the heart.
The book, however, doesn't start out that way. Beginning with an easy conversational tone, the narrator is presented as formal, eloquent, and antiquated in speech. Set up much like someone telling a story to a class, the novel hints at evils we as the reader are unable to comprehend and then broaches a few very current controversial political topics such a President Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, and child trafficking. These issues subsequently bleed into the life of our main character, Adam, and ultimately lead to the obsession that takes him and his family to the house on Blackstone Hill. Once the novel begins to actually tell the story of Adam and his wife Ava, the narrator's voice is much more from the third person perspective and loses the flair with which he spoke in the prologue.
As characters, Adam and Ava are unique. I was under the impression that they are an interracial couple, though much isn't said by way of Adam's description until the end when he's covered in blood. Though they have two small children, ages 3 and 7, and one more on the way, they are 48 and 51 years of age themselves, well into their careers in journalism and school administration. It is Adam's profession as a newspaper editor that finds him caught up in a scandal to protect Epstein's cohorts who might be embarrassed if their involvement in a child sex trafficking ring was exposed, which we ultimately find mirrored in the narrative at the end of the novel. The Biblical references of demonic elements and satanic offerings leading to the possible corruption of a gentleman named Adam was not lost on me. In fact, Ava is fairly similar to Eve, though in the novel we see their roles reversed over what is depicted within the chapters of Genesis.
While I thought that the book itself was exquisitely written, I was slightly thrown off by the narrator who inserts himself quite often throughout the novel. Coupling graphic details with the random interjections of "Dear reader...this will be discussed later" distracted from the story itself, though not by much. The phrase "we will talk more about this later" appeared multiple times throughout the novel, but there is also no mention of this being a series. This may play into the author's persona that he's opening the readers' eyes to different atrocities and horrors within humanity and that each book written under this pen name will address a different issue. It also may be an oversight. Only time will tell.
I also felt like there were specific elements of this story that were taken from multiple other horror novels and films that have come before this one. I don't mean simple ones like the mirror of the kiddo quartet we saw in Scott Dyson's work. I mean quite elaborate similarities that make up the actual foundation of the story. For instance in The House on Blackstone Hill, the house itself lies on the outskirts of an abandoned town which sits on top of burning coal deposits. The entire community had to be evacuated after an explosion caused exposed coal veins to catch fire and burn deep within the earth for decades, leaving the area open to worshipers of demons and the communing of spiritual evils. Sound familiar? I'll give you two hints: Silent.
Despite this lapse in originality, there were some very beautiful descriptions throughout the novel. Scozzo, whoever he is, is definitely a master of his craft. This was perhaps my favorite line:
"...the somber tones of the winter denuded woods and the brilliant gold fields of dried corn against the blue sky still made the drive westward gorgeous."
Another line that really read quite beautifully to me, despite it being a demon speaking to a man, really emphasized the Biblical references, the battle between good and evil with man used as a pawn: "Do not fail me again, Man," Andromelech whispered to Adam...
If you can work past the cringe-worthy subject matter that Scozzo addresses in the novel and the obvious piggy-backing of other works, I do believe that this novel is stunning. Each detail is fleshed out magnificently and he leaves the novel open, not only for immersive contemplation when the dust has settled, but also for a sequel.
I would highly recommend this novel and feel like I might be courageous enough to read the next book he publishes.