What a fun, sensory ride this was! “Within These Walls” was an audiobook listen for me, as I’m currently underwater with life and finding the time to sit down to read has been tough. Still, the rich narration only helped to enhance the vision Ania Ahlborn crafts throughout the novel.
Lucas, a true crime writer struggling in the current publishing environment (ha!), is on the verge of losing everything. When his golden ticket arrives in the form of an invitation from the infamous (and imprisoned) Jeffrey Halcomb — a notorious cult leader with a trail of dead devotees in his wake — Lucas can hardly resist the exclusive.
There’s just one catch: Lucas and his twelve-year-old daughter, Virginia, must live in the house where the ‘sacrament’ took place. But the time capsule of a home proves to be more than just a dusty old relic…
The tapestry of scents and imagery Ahlborn weaves throughout the novel placed me firmly within this “Brady Bunch” era home. While I find myself straddling in age the disgruntled pre-teen Virginia (aka ‘V’) with her band t-shirts and her love for all things spooky (holy relatable, Batman) and her equally disgruntled father, Lucas, with his combat boots and affinity for Morrissey in his times of sorrow, it’s the rich descriptions of Jeffery Halcomb himself that really pulled me in. We see him oscillate as a cult leader, equal parts loving and aggressive*, and come to understand, at least in part, why someone vulnerable might gravitate toward him.
*let’s call this what it is: abusive.
The book is a non-linear telling of two convergent timelines, complete with news articles and police reports. Only a few times did things seem rather transparent to me that were obscured from the main cast, and I appreciated the way Ahlborn used the metaphysical to tie it all together.
All in all, this was a fun listening experience. While not earth shattering, I would highly recommend for fans of the paranormal, cults, and true crime. It’s almost literally what would happen if the ‘Amityville Horror’ house and the Manson Family had a baby.