Book Review: Alison Naomi Holt, The Door At The Top Of The Stairs

03-25-2011 by L. S. Carbonell

There are forty yards of fiction on my bookshelves. Yeah, you read that right – yards. Thirty yards of it are mysteries. I love a good mystery – police procedurals, English country houses, classic who-done-its, everything from Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelmas to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. The challenge is to find one I can’t figure out before the last chapter.

Alison Holt blew me away.

While there are a couple of criminal subplots to this book, the real mystery lies inside a mind. Fair warning, if you are not a fan of shows like Criminal Minds, the journey through this mind can easily become too much to read. This book requires a strong ability to take a step back from the horrors inside that mind.

I found myself grateful for the parts of the book that stepped away from the mystery, because it gave me a chance to put it down. Otherwise, I would have read straight through the night, and that’s something I only do if I’m dumb enough to get caught two-thirds of the way through a Dick Francis around 11 p.m. The breaks work well, primarily dealing with the operations of a farm that trains horses and hounds for American fox hunting – no foxes are killed. Holt finds that balance between explaining something most of us have no clue about and over-explaining it. Nothing about the farm operation gets so detailed that you want to skip a few paragraphs.

I was initially surprised that Holt never pegs this farm to a state or region. That’s rare. Authors go to great lengths to establish their characters within the framework of a real location, even though a street or estate or town may be fictional. The closest one comes with this book is a sense that they don’t ever have to dig out from under three feet of snow. The town is like small towns in every state. The people could be anywhere, just supply the accent. By the end, I realized that the lack of specific location had allowed me to imagine a place where I felt safe to return to after delving into the terrifying terrain within that damaged mind. I appreciated the freedom from being in California or Virginia or anywhere I wasn’t at home.

Anyone who reads our blog regularly knows that I’m the straight gal on this staff, so the only part of this book I can’t comment on with any authority is the relationships of the five female characters. On the other hand, none of the, shall we say, romantic scenes were graphic or embarrassing for a middle-aged straight woman, so you can safely recommend this book to your auntie if she’s cool with your lifestyle. I was particularly comfortable with the relationship of the older, committed couple. Morgan and Ryland felt right. That’s the only way I can explain it. They just felt right. All the relationships felt right. I cared about these people, and isn’t that the most important part of any book?

Let’s put it this way, in the last three days, I recommended it to my younger daughter. She bought it for her Nook and has already recommended it to her mystery book club. It’s that good.

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