First published back in 1987, Janet Lorimer’s short tale ‘The Dollhouse’ was released as a stand-alone story for the Fearon Education ‘Fastback’ series.  The Fastback series were designed to encourage reluctant readers to take up reading, keeping the stories short, sharp and thrilling. This one was published within the ‘Horror’ series and is a ‘Double Fastbacks’ meaning it’s double the length of a standard Fastback.

The story was later published within the ‘Descendants of Eve’ (1989) Fastback Anthology.

DLS Synopsis:
Steve Hammond had completely forgotten about his Great-Aunt Ellen. After all, it had been many, many years since he’d last laid eyes on her. In fact, he was about the same age as his own teenaged daughter, Karen, when he’d last seen his Great-Aunt Ellen. Steve guessed he’d subconsciously assumed the old lady had passed away a number of years ago. He’d never in a million years had thought she’d still be alive.

Then the letter arrived. It detailed that Ellen had been receiving care the past few years, but now her carer had herself passed away. The responsibility to look after the elderly woman now fell on Steve’s shoulders. After all, Great-Aunt Ellen was family.

However, with Steve being a successful lawyer and having so much important work on, his wife Becky, offered to instead take their daughter up to Cold Springs, so they could look after the elderly woman whilst they arranged more permanent care.

When Becky and Karen arrived, they found Steve’s Great-Aunt Ellen to be beyond frail – she pretty much had one foot in the grave already. However, for some strange reason, their thirteen-year-old daughter had instantly taken to the woman. The pair quickly became inseparable. And as the days passed, Ellen’s health improved considerably, whilst strangely Karen seemed to be getting weaker by the day.

But still the girl was drawn to the frail old lady. Day and night she’d be there with her. Chatting with the ancient old lady and playing with her equally old dollhouse…

DLS Review:
This is one of those creepy tales that’s designed to gradually seep under your skin with the unnerving oddness of what’s occurring, coupled with the use of a strange connection between this young teenager and a frail old woman.

However, the trouble with the story is that the supposed ‘big reveal’ is incredibly predictable from early on. In fact, author Janet Lorimer drops far too many painfully obvious hints and clues throughout the short tale to make the concluding pages a mere case of wrapping up the story, rather than the intended big twist ending.

It all feels like a very lowbrow and cliched 1980s horror movie that’s been put together on a shoestring budget. You can almost hear the eerie piano score that would undoubtedly accompany the film and imagine the dusty old woman’s home with the aging dollhouse sitting in the corner.

All in all it’s really the predictability that ruins the story. Being able to guess the inevitable outcome throughout the tale is such a detracting factor for a quietly eerie horror of this nature. In fact, it gets to the point where you’re just wanting the author to stop pussyfooting around the matter and just get to the ending and be done with it.

The Fastback runs for a total of 61 pages (which are just 4” x 5.5” with an average word count of around 100 words per page).

© DLS Reviews


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