Maynard's House by Herman Raucher is a beautifully-written haunted house story which plumbs incredible depths of creepiness.
It's about Austin, a young Vietnam veteran. He's inherited the house of Maynard, his best friend in the war, after he died in battle. The book begins with Austin travelling to Maine in the depths of winter to claim his inheritance.
The creeps takes a long time to get going, but once they begin they're powerful. The house is beautiful but oddly unnerving. There's a dead tree nearby from which a witch was hanged some centuries ago, and it casts no shadow. The rocking chair creaks at night. A carved plank records how for decades every inhabitant has fled the house or died. But there's a snowstorm outside and Austin cannot leave.
Two young Minnawickies - whether this refers to a Native American tribe or a supernatural sprite is never made clear - seem to offer comfort with their youthful shenanigans. But they turn out to be extremely troubling, especially as one of them is an attractive young girl who seems like a child one minute and a seductive adult the next.
This anxiety about the girl's age infects the reader, dragging you right inside Austin's unravelling mind. It's clear that he's been traumatised by combat, and it's as if everything now is untrustworthy, anything good or hopeful - such as his desire for a beautiful girl - may hide a horror.
But the book offers more than just creeps. There are a couple of awkward sexual scenes with animals of all things - a deer tries to eat Austin's 'odd carrot' while he's in the outhouse, and a randy squirrel mistakes him for another squirrel . These manage at once to be funny, and to work with the darker elements of the book.
The writing is something else, too. Take this description of the house as Austin first approaches it, for example:
A long, tapering roof, sweeping down almost to the snow—facing north, the better to deflect the wind, causing that invisible beast to spend its strength riding the roof, arriving in the trees beyond with nothing to show for all its muscle but an echoing whistle.
From what I can gather Maynard's House was first published in 1981. Despite the centrality of the Vietnam war to the plot, the book feels timeless, as if it could be set in any period after railways were invented. Maine is a character in its own right, cold and remote, sparsely populated by enigmatic locals who talk in riddles.
Maynard's House is slow and dreamy but repays the time taken to read it with a genuinely frightening story.If you like superbly written horror, and don't mind a slow build-up for a great payoff, this book is recommended.