Review: Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker

“Where else was I fundamentally wrong about life and the universe and how everything worked? Is life a cycle of us realizing how stupid we are over and over again until we die?”

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November 2019 | Turner

Filed Under: Eric Andre screaming “let me in!”

While I love horror as a genre in any form, I admit I don’t read as much of it as I would like. And when I do read it, I find I’m disappointed that things aren’t as scary or twisted as I want them to be. Maybe my expectations are just too high. I’m 100% that book bitch. But I am making an concerted effort to read more horror until I find my lane in the genre.

That said, for me, Twelve Nights at Rotter House is on the slow-burner end of the horror spectrum. For much of the middle of the book, I wondered if anything really scary was ever going to happen; I could feel my typical disappointment start to brew. There are some disembodied screams, unexplained noises, figures that disappear, and of course the quintessential dumbwaiter that never reveals anything good, but none of it was really getting my heart rate up.

The main character of Felix was a little overwrought in how skeptical he was of everything, and his extreme rationalizing created a slower atmosphere. Scary moments were consistently downplayed, sucking the spooky guts out of the story and lending itself to my question of if anything truly scary was going to happen because any time I thought something creepy was afoot, Felix came in and just Debbie Downer’ed all over the place.

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He’s a dream killer, is what he is.

But, at the same time, this overly skeptical take on the haunted house story was fresh (for me) and different and believable, if not insistent. It kept me intrigued enough to pay attention to the more mundane elements. Because seriously, was anything really scary ever going to happen!? There was only one way to find out – keep reading.

The gist is this: Felix Allsey needs to write a book that’s actually going to sell before he loses his fed-up wife and his livelihood. Felix stays in haunted locations the world over and then writes about his experiences. So far, none of his work has caught fire. When the owner of the infamous Rotter House agrees to let him stay in the decrepit Victorian for 13 nights, Felix is convinced the resulting book is the one that will finally bring him the success he needs to turn his life around.

Blah. Kind of typical.

To spice things up, enter Thomas – Fexlis’ former friend, and haunted house sleepover partner, with whom he has a contentious relationship after some unspeakable event between them. Felix asks Thomas to work with him at Rotter House to get their friendship back on track and enjoy the “inevitable” success of the book together. There was too much history between them to throw it all away.

A lot of the book is focused on the personal issues between Felix and Thomas, revealing bigger and bigger secrets as to why they had a falling out Eventually their relationship becomes so sordid as they work through their issues with long conversations and reminiscing, that it didn’t really matter to me if there were murderous ghosts in the house or not. TELL ME ABOUT BLACKING OUT AND TOUCHING BODY PARTS, GUYS!

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Oh, I’ve said too much.

All of this drama, that I was absolutely living for, didn’t start to ramp up until the last quarter of the novel. So for me, the pacing is uneven. I believe it was an effort to throw the reader off as the ending drew closer so it was that much more shocking, but to a reader with a lower DNF threshold, it might have stopped them from finishing a novel that truly had a fucking amazing twist ending.

I mean, seriously. It’s just…

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The last quarter of the book almost makes up for all the nothing-nothing that somehow manages to fill up the pages before it.

I like to think of myself as a reader who can catch the red herrings and clues, but this book so cleverly used the expectation of ghosties, and the vagueness in which they do or do not appear, to bury the hints pretty much in plain sight. The ending completely threw me for a loop, but I also totally should have seen it coming. I consider that a testament to the author’s writing abilities, and/or my sadly limited experience with horror fiction.

If only the first part of the novel hadn’t been so slow, I’d be rating this closer to five stars, probably. I mean, I hope. It is that magical time of year when my grinchy heart grows three sizes.


Felix Allsey is a travel writer with a keen eye for the paranormal, and he’s carved out a unique, if only slightly lucrative, niche for himself in nonfiction; he writes travelogues of the country’s most haunted places, after haunting them himself.

When he convinces the owner of the infamous Rotterdam Mansion to let him stay on the premises for 13 nights, he believes he’s finally found the location that will bring him a bestseller. As with his other gigs, he sets rules for himself: no leaving the house for any reason, refrain from outside contact, and sleep during the day.

When Thomas Ruth, Felix’s oldest friend and fellow horror film obsessive, joins him on the project, the two dance around a recent and unspeakably painful rough-patch in their friendship, but eventually fall into their old rhythms of dark humour and movie trivia. That’s when things start going wrong: screams from upstairs, figures in the thresholds, and more than what should be in any basement. Felix realizes the book he’s writing, and his very state of mind, is tilting from nonfiction into all out horror, and the shocking climax answers a question that’s been staring these men in the face all along: In Rotter House, who’s haunting who? 

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