Sarah Greene is a somewhat traumatized amateur investigator, living in a disturbed and notably haunted small town. In HOUSE OF THE SHRIEKING WOMAN, the second of a series of mysteries centered on her character, she joins up with her colorful, staunch friend, Carter, to explore a surreal and growing tendency of residents in a local women’s shelter to self harm.
Greene is a fairly insipid real estate vendor by day, but it’s her work with the paranormal and tendency to see ghosts on the corners of the town of Dos Santos, California, that light up her nervous but intrepid character. Agreeing to look into the difficulties at the women’s shelter goes very much against her own recovery–regularly hinted at in reference to earlier series book, THE GIRL IN THE MIRROR, but it becomes necessary as the events seem to call out to her through the metaphysical. Greene soon traces the incidents back to the presence of a Guatemalan lady living in the shelter; an extremely quiet and reserved domestic violence victim who always seem to be present when the self-harming incidents take place, though nobody can quite figure out what the pattern means, or how she’s influencing the other women. The incidents themselves are disturbing: the residents laugh gleefully as they brutally assault themselves, by, for example, shoving a hand deep into garbage disposal unit, but are later unable to recall the incident at all. Soon, the book diverges into the exploration of the Guatemalan lady’s background at home, as well as taking a stroll into a world of demonic pressures and uncomfortable influences around Dos Santos, as the tale slowly unravels with plenty of moody undertones.
Steven Ramirez is an experienced author, having published a number of books that tend to have quite sinister themes and sharp, character-led narratives. HOUSE OF THE SHRIEKING WOMAN has a number of consistent angles: it’s dark, to the point of at times being quite intimidating; it hacks in subtle ways at the psyche of both the characters involved and the reader, and it has some very substantial and often central religious undertones. What it’s not is an easy read. The innate darkness of the plotline is one aspect, but the book is also hampered somewhat by some extremely descriptive passages that occasionally come along without really contributing to the narrative–detailed descriptions of belongings, for example–and a tendency to play a little heavily on the characters’ emotions, in some cases, without ever fully feeling like it’s really brought them to life. That’s not to say it’s a bad read: far from it. It twists some clever horror tropes, and the investigative angle is often imaginative in its explorations. Carter, in particular, is a likeable, lively and three-dimensional character.
HOUSE OF THE SHRIEKING WOMAN is a solid psychological drama that steps away from the norm and carries a real small-town vibe. Claustrophobic and surreal, it spins from creepy to thoughtful with a stark and memorable narrative.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader