Samhain Publishing (2012)
After placing Jonathan's debut novel, The Sorrows, on my Fave Five of 2012 list, I was eager to see how his next effort, published in the second half of last year, would pan out. House of Skin is a title alluded to in The Sorrows, as the protagonist works on the score of a film project by that name, but I will say right now that the book threw me, because the horror went in a much different direction than I expected--and that's probably a good thing, too.
After his estranged uncle dies, Paul Carver finds himself the inheritor of Watermere, the palatial estate gone to ruin just outside the small town of Shadeland. An aspiring writer, Paul sees a chance to chase his dream, but not only leaves simmering hostility from his ex-girlfriend Emily, but finds it from townsfolk who despised his late uncle.
On the other side of the coin is Julia Merrow. A meek librarian assistant, she's introduced through the point of view of the lawyer overseeing the Watermere estate, a guy who woos her by giving a tour of the place, then sexually assaults her once back at her place. That's about the last mistake the lawyer ever makes, as he regains consciousness in her cellar. It's not explicitly stated in the beginning, but as the story unfolds it becomes pretty clear that she has a history with Watermere, especially after she and Paul Carver engage in an illicit affair.
The affair draws the ire of Sheriff Barlow, but not nearly as much as Paul Carver's arrival in town at the time of the lawyer's disappearance. Barlow immediately suspects Paul, and his hatred for the Carvers becomes clear over time through flashbacks. Paul Carver even experiences a couple of these flashbacks, which spur his life-altering path to writing a novel about the shadowy history of Watermere. And as he learns more about the estate and its history with those he's met, it begins to change him. And it eventually becomes the aptly titled House of Skin.
While the novel got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, it really hooked me by the time I was fifty pages in. Jonathan Janz knows his characters and wrings their emotional turmoil for all it's worth. While you might initially scope out characters like Paul, Julia, and even Sheriff Barlow as supposed heroes in this story, it's far more nuanced as their frailties are opened up bit by bit. And as far as Annabel Carver is concerned, the late wife and manipulative influence at Myles Carver's side ... well, I'll let you get to know her on your own time.
The Sorrows wound up being one of my favorite reads last year because of its wild hairpin turns in the arc of the story. I never could guess what would happen next. House of Skin doesn't deliver that same roller coaster ride, instead offering a precipitous descent into the madness of the Carver House and the lives it destroys. I had a fair idea of what would happen next, but it's the velocity by which it happened that made the book a standout. It's another novel by Janz I'll happily recommend.