The Voices by F.R. Tallis

“Places have atmospheres, certainly, and I suppose that powerful, emotionally charged events might leave some kind of impression–a kind of memory. But as for the dead coming back to meddle with the affairs of the living? I’m not sure I believe in that sort of thing.”

In 2013, I read and enjoyed The Sleep Room, so when I saw that British author F.R.Tallis had written a new novel, I knew I had to get my hands on it. But first a story….

About twenty years ago, a relocation seemed imminent. As it turned out, the move never happened, but the search for a new home led to a bizarre experience I’ve never forgotten. With only weeks, as I thought at the time, to find a rental, pack up and move, I drove to this small, rural area in order to check out a few houses. I saw a handful–most were disappointing with a range of problems, and then, the very last house on the list seemed promising. The rent was fair, and unlike the other houses, this one, on the outside at least, seemed to be in a good state of repair. I met the real estate agent in front of the house which was located on a remote side road. We went inside, and there was the usual bland living room and kitchen. Then I passed into the hallway, and something happened….

A chill and a heavy feeling of dread passed over me as I turned into the first bedroom on the right; I felt as though I was about to see something horrifying, but, of course, the room was empty. As I stood in the doorway, I knew that something terrible had happened in this room. I quickly passed through the rest of the house, went into the back garden where I experienced the same feeling, and then returned to the living room. There the real estate agent, with a stack of rental apps in his hand, said, “before we go any further, I have to tell you that a murder took place here…” Let me ask you: would you move into this house?

If you reject my experience, then The Voices will probably have no appeal, but if you accept my story, then F.R.Tallis’s macabre tale of things that go bump in the night is for you.

The voicesThe Voices takes place in London in the 70s as a married couple, Christopher Norton and his pregnant wife, Laura, meet an estate agent at a Victorian house located near Hampstead Heath. The house appears to have been uninhabited for some time, and in spite of substantial need for repair, the Nortons fall for the house, buy it and move in. The house may be a long-term project in terms of repair, but it seems perfect, and one of its selling points is a large room on the top floor which Christopher, a composer, can use as a studio. It’s on this first day, that Laura, standing and gazing into the overgrown garden sees something. This is the moment when the couple should have RUN, but no, instead they buy the house, move in and Laura gives birth to Faye.

Over time, Christopher and Laura begin to grow apart. Christopher’s career stalls, and he sees another friend, a man who opted for a less commercial career, receiving the sort of recognition he craves. Christopher writes and creates film soundtracks, and while he was once in Hollywood, now the jobs coming his way are scarce and for minor films. In fact, at one point, he’s even passed over for Star Wars. In a funk, Christopher discovers some peculiarities on recordings he’s made inside his home studio. At first he thinks there’s an equipment problem or that the voices he hears are radio interferences, but as these options are ruled out, he becomes convinced that the voices on his tapes are paranormal activity. After reading the book Breakthrough: An Electronic Communication with the Dead by Konstantin Raudive, Christopher is convinced that the voices will be an integral part of a unique project that will make his career. He delves into the history of the house and descends into obsession as he attempts to capture the voices of the dead on tape.

The engineer shook his head. ‘Nothing.’

‘What do you mean, nothing?’

‘I couldn’t find anything wrong.’

‘But the voices…’

‘Yeah,’ said Kaminsky. ‘The voices.’ He lit a cigarette and nodded silently to himself. ‘I’ve been listening to them, and if you think about it…’ He hesitated and seemed uncertain as to whether to proceed or not.

‘Yes.’

Kaminsky continued. ‘They don’t sound anything like radio broadcasts, do they? She died last night; I’m a stranger here; Come, Tommy. Fate. In French, German, English. I mean, what sort of stations are we picking up here?’ It was true. The voices didn’t appear in an ongoing stream of interference, and it was difficult to imagine them in the context of an ordinary radio programme. ‘And why no music?’ Kaminsky added, foreshadowing Christopher’s own thoughts. ‘No records, no jingles, nothing.’

‘What are you suggesting?’ Christopher asked.

The engineer studied the smoke rising from his cigarette.’I don’t think these voices are radio transmissions.’

Meanwhile, Laura, a former top model, suffering perhaps from postpartum depression, experiences horrible nightmares. Growing apart from Christopher, she joins a feminist book group, and begins to reject her past life. As Christopher and Laura become estranged from each other, there’s a big question: is this just a normal turn of events or is the atmosphere of the house itself eroding their psyches?

She had only intended to stop reading for a few seconds to rest her eyes, but she found herself thinking about the past. It was happening more and more–memories would detach themselves from some deep, murky place of concealment and rise in her awareness. An image of an Italian couturier formed in her mind. She had thought about him a lot since being reminded of his existence by her old see-through blouse (which she had now given to Oxfam). Once again, it all came flooding back. The hotel, the black leather furniture and the floating forms in the lava lamp. She had absorbed enough pop psychology from magazine articles to know that the insistent return of these memories was symptomatic. It meant something.

That’s as much of the plot as I’m going to give away. With Christopher and Laura’s estrangement, combined with his feelings of anguish at a lost career, we’re initially not sure how much here is psychological vs paranormal. Over time the difference becomes clear, and author F. R. Tallis, a clinical psychologist, carefully and relentlessly builds dread as Christopher’s obsession grows and Laura begins to feel that there’s a presence in the house. There were moments when I wondered at the lethargy of this married couple, but then that’s explained by their twin paths: Christopher, happy to delve into the house’s dark past, and Laura, who has a tiny sliver of intuition, but she’s too deep in her own memories trying to get to some central truth to take action. Much is left to the imagination, and this just adds to the terror. There are some loose ends with the secondary characters, Sue in particular, and the storyline involving the house’s last owner is frustrating elusive, but overall this was a gripping, dark tale.

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13 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Tallis F. R.

13 responses to “The Voices by F.R. Tallis

  1. Congratulations on another insightful review. I will certainly hunt out ‘The Voices’, particularly since I’m currently writing about a murder in the basement of the Queenscliff hotel (Victoria, Australia), and the spiritualist beliefs of Henry Handel Richardson.

  2. I like the tone of this one a great deal. I’ve had similar experiences to you – not as creepy though. I totally believe a place can store energies.
    I might vene break my book buying ban for this book -not doing a proper one anyway, just cutting back.

  3. I’m not sure about this one.
    I liked his Death in Vienna.

    • Foy you, Emma, I’d say give it a pass due to the elements involving children. I didn’t know you’d read one of the Liebermann stories. I want to try those.

  4. Brian Joseph

    I like the idea that this sound like it intertwines combines dark supernatural elements with what seems like real characters and their psychology. Some believe that such dark places in our own minds are the origin of supernatural anyway.

    I would just add that I think that one does not necessarily need to believe in ghosts in order to enjoy a good ghost story.

    • Psychologists have the edge on this sort of thing, I think, so if they can write, they should put their talents to good (an extra) use–as has Frank Tallis.

  5. It does sound rather fun. I agree with Brian – whether one believes in ghosts or not is pretty much irrelevant to whether one can enjoy ghost tales. I don’t, but if I’d had your experience I would have disregarded my beliefs and not bought that house – sometimes one should trust one’s instincts even if one can’t explain them.

    • I’ve since wondered why he told me? was it the look on my face, a legal obligation or…

      • According to the estate agent character in season one of American Horror Story, it’s a legal obligation to disclose any murders or suicides that occurred within the past 12 months.

        In California anyway, there may be similar laws elsewhere.

        Of course, American Horror Story may not have been a wholly reliable guide to US real estate law, the show never described itself as exactly a documentary.

  6. Thanks for replying to my comment, Guy. Which HHR did you buy? I hope you enjoy it. She lived in Queenscliff as a small girl, while her father went mad and her mother struggled to learn Morse code so she could support the family. (I’ve embarked on a new series, and yes, my Sandra Mahoney quartet is now available as ebooks.) I’m interested in other readers’ comments too. I wonder whether anyone has read Isak Dinesen’s ‘Seven Gothic Tales’, which I recently returned to; there are some wonderful ghost characters in that.

    • The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.

      A new series? Wonderful. It’s so good to see Aussie books making it to the virtual shops here–they’ve all too often been either unavailable or out of reach cost-wise.
      I read some I. D. a long time ago, but was put off with all the hunting, but I have never read the book you mention.

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