The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne
The Upstairs Room is both a tense mystery and a gripping novel about happiness and knowing when something isn’t working. When Eleanor and Richard move to a Victorian house in London Fields with their two young daughters, it is meant to be a great opportunity for them, even though the cost of potential renovations mean they have to take a lodger, the at-a-loose-end Zoe. Eleanor quickly thinks there is something wrong with the house, something connected with the mysterious wall scribblings in the upstairs room done by an ‘Emily’.
The novel is a character-driven mystery, focusing on the lives of Eleanor, Richard, and Zoe and their discontentments both in and outside of the house. That doesn’t mean that Murray-Browne does not keep up the tension, with eerie moments and an unnerving combination of obvious and unexplainable mysteries throughout. Problems like a lack of communication and the perils of the London housing market exacerbate issues as they attempt to live in the house that Eleanor comes to believe doesn’t want her there. The style is easy to devour and the combination of characters and ambiguous mystery make it a good book to sit down with and be drawn into.
In some ways, The Upstairs Room is like a slow burn horror film, the kind focused on the happiness and lives of the characters as much as the potential mystery and threat, or The Shining rewritten for the modern London housing crisis. It will also appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about character relationships and life uncertainty, with a background mystery plot and not too much overt revelation, but rather an understated approach to the genre.