Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep depicts an expedition beset by murderous aquatic creatures following the general body plan of mermaids. Her new novella In the Shadow of Spindrift House also deals with underwater life-forms that don’t have humanity’s best interests at heart, though its scope and tone is very different. Harlowe Upton-Jones and her friends have been a successful teen detective agency in the mode of the Scooby Gang or Encyclopedia Brown. But they’re growing out of the “teenage” part, and Harlowe wants to give them one last hurrah before they go their separate ways. This takes the form of investigating the mysterious Spindrift House, whose ownership is debated and which has been the site of unexplained disappearances and deaths.
Seanan McGuire uses the Mira Grant pen name to write stories with a somewhat darker tone, but Spindrift House shares one major commonality with some of her best work as McGuire. As in the Wayward Children series, the theme of “found family” plays a major role here. Harlowe and her friends understand each other’s quirks, help each other through difficulties both major and minor, and generally act as siblings to each other. Harlowe has even been adopted into her friend Kevin’s family, with his mother acting as a surrogate parent to her after the death of her parents and abandonment of her grandparents. Some of this closeness comes from their shared experiences solving mysteries—it’s implied that a few of the mysteries had truly supernatural conclusions, so the “these are the only people who believe me about what happened” element that draws children to Eleanor West’s school in Wayward Children is present here too. But some of it comes simply from their willingness to accept each other as they are, treating their differences as something to be accommodated and respected rather than feared or shunned. This adds greater emotional stakes to the central conflict in the book, which forces Harlowe to choose between biological and found family.
Interestingly, Spindrift House uses a similar premise to a novel I read and reviewed back in 2017, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids. In both cases, a group of erstwhile teen detectives confronts a spooky house whose secret turns out to have distinctly Lovecraftian overtones. The tone and prose style of the two books is very different, however. While Meddling Kids’s longer length gives it more time to develop its characters, I preferred Grant’s take on the premise. While someone who loved the esoteric genre mashup in Meddling Kids will probably enjoy the similar mélange in Spindrift House, I suspect that the stylistic difference will predispose readers to strongly preferring one over the other.
As expected for Grant, some of the language in Spindrift House has a lyrical quality. She does an excellent job evoking the ceaseless, unhurried rhythms of the sea. There’s a dreamlike aspect to the writing in some passages that mirrors Harlowe’s actual dream scenes, and the symmetry there serves to show how the barriers are breaking down between Harlowe’s everyday life and something else.
I do have one quibble with the characterization, but because it’s dependent on a major plot event, I’ll discuss it at the very end so readers can avoid spoilers. Overall, In the Shadow of Spindrift House has a lot of depth to it, despite its brevity. While it was initially published as a limited-edition hardcover from Subterranean Press, the publisher has recently made it available as an eBook as well. Hopefully, this wider distribution will make the story available for more people to enjoy, as I think it’s worthy as an addition to readers’ personal collections, as well as for awards such as the Bram Stoker.
Addison generally struck me as manipulative, selfish, and unworthy of Harlowe’s crush on her. That substantially blunted the emotional impact of her death. The tragedy of its effect on Harlowe and of Harlowe’s forced complicity in it is counteracted by a sense of “Eh, I didn’t like her anyway.” At the same time, she isn’t so unlikeable that her death is cathartic or seen as a just comeuppance (e.g. Joffrey in GOT). The reader doesn’t get to experience either the gut-punch of a tragic death or the catharsis of a deserved one.