Book Review; The Black House- Carole Johnstone

A remote village.

A deadly secret.

Page Count 400

Publication date August 2022

Publisher Harper Collins

GoodReads link




A remote village.

A deadly secret.

An outsider who knows the truth…

Maggie Mackay has been haunted her entire life. No matter what she does, she can’t shake the sense that something is wrong with her. And maybe something is…

When she was five years old, without proof, Maggie announced that someone in the remote village of Blairmore in the Outer Hebrides had murdered a local man, sparking a media storm.

Now, Maggie is determined to discover what really happened and what the villagers are hiding. But everyone has secrets, and some are deadly. As she gets closer to the horrifying truth, Maggie’s own life is in danger…



Johnstone nails the atmosphere, on a tiny self sufficient island when the sea is raging and the night is too black to see a cliff edge right infront of you, or indeed a person sneaking up behind. However each time the tension started to build the reader is heavily reminded of the unreliable narrator and we once again delve deep into the day to day goings on of island life the next morning which destroyed the pacing for me.

I found the first third of the book very slow going, there were enough moments woven in alongside my experience of Johnstone’s previous novel Mirrorland (which I also struggled with until a major turning point left me adoring the book) to force me to keep turning pages, but a less patient person may have given up sooner.

There is a hefty dose of Gaelic language in The Blackhouse, a big positive for the setting but a frequent stammer in the pacing for me as I attempted to navigate the story. My inner reading voice struggled with the pronunciations and occasionally the context wasn’t enough for me to grasp the words meaning. I wish I’d known (or thought to check!) that there was a glossary in back.

The essential mystery, is whether our main character really is the reincarnation of a dead man- as she has believed since childhood- and whether this man was murdered.

Kilmeray is a tight knit village with the typical wariness of outsiders, I really enjoyed how Johnstone built relationships between Maggie and each resident and was quite enamoured of them all by the end.

I’m pleased I stuck with The Blackhouse, more character driven than plot, the story unfolds slowly from the present perspective of Maggie and the past of Robert and Andrew. Although I rate Johnstone’s debut Mirrorland much higher, there were still some jaw droppers in store here and the complex characters eventually melted my heart.

Features & Functions:

Author: Roxanne Michelle

Dramatic, curly-haired wannabe writer from a nowhere town in Somerset. Stop-starter of all projects great and small. Here to talk books, film, mental health and lifestyle.

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