by Arkady Martine
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 12, 2023
Available exclusively (at this time) from Subterranean Press.
My thanks to Subterranean Press and Net Galley for the advance review copy of Rose/House in exchange for an honest review. The novella will be published at the end of the month. Subterranean and Martine's website say March 30, while Net Galley says the 31st, neither of which is a Tuesday, the most typical book release day. It is available for pre-order exclusively from Subterranean at this time (see link above), in a signed hardcover edition, limited to 1000 copies. Their description doesn't mention any interior illustrations as some of their books get, but they do identify the cover artist, David Curtis. Probably not noticeable in the image to the right, but a larger version is on the publisher's site, and there it is obvious it is not only electrical wiring dangling from the bottom of Rose House. It is possible there will be other editions later, maybe even an ebook. I'll update if that is the case.
The story is a mix of murder mystery of the locked room type, and an examination of just how intelligent an AI infused house can be, maybe even how traumatized an AI could grow to be. As with most mysteries there are red herrings and misdirection, and people you're not sure are telling the truth. Rose House was the last, and best, creation of celebrated architect Basit Deniau, built in the Mojave Desert near China Lake. After Deniau's death, Rose House was bequeathed (in a sense) to Selene Gisil, who at one time had been his most accomplished student, and perhaps more. Selene was to be Deniau's archivist, the only one allowed inside Rose House, required to visit it for one week each year, a task she actively disliked. If she can be believed that is. The rest of her year was spent pursuing her own architectural career, as far from Rose House as possible. When she gets a call from Detective Maritza Smith of the China Lake Police Precinct, about a possible murder inside Rose House, Selene is in Trabzon, Türkiye, on the shores of the Black Sea.
Maritza had been on an overnight shift when Rose House, its AI that is, called with a "duty-of-care" notification, reporting a body inside the house. Inside Rose House, which was not supposed to allow entrance to anyone but Selene Gisil. Of course, Dr. Gisil is Detective Smith's primary suspect, even though her travel documents confirm she had not been in the US, much less China Lake, for at least a month. Maritza's fellow detective, not really a partner, Oliver Torres tells her to go get her required eight hours sleep before any other duty, but instead she goes to Rose House, where her request for entrance is of course rebuffed. Even when Selene arrives Maritza is denied entrance, until Selene convinces Rose House that Maritza is not really a person, but an entity known as the China Lake Precinct, so they should be allowed in. That's one of the first clues the house either has an ulterior motive, or else is playing with them, since there is no way such a sophisticated AI would not realize Maritza was an individual live person. When they find the body, close examination of which does not reveal a noticeable cause of death, Maritza is surprised to find the mouth is stuffed with rose petals, but ones that appear fresher than the body that had been there at least three days by her calculation. If the murderer stuffed the mouth with the petals well after death, they are likely still in the house.
Torres refused to go into the house, even if the house would have allowed it. Like anyone who had lived in China Lake for any length of time, he knew the house was haunted. However, after he gets back to the precinct, he starts to feel guilty about letting Maritza go in. In addition, he is confronted by a suspicious person lurking around the precinct parking lot, and that leads him to search for information the man gave him, which frightens him quite a bit. He is convinced he knows what the dead man was looking for inside Rose House, and that he was not the only one anxious to get that information. In a sense, Torres was right about Rose House being haunted, but in quite a different way than he thought. Maritza did make it out of the house, and like Selene decided she needed to be as far from Rose House as possible, yet she would be haunted by it the rest of her life.
I read about half the novella last night, finishing this morning. After that I went to Martine's website, where an excerpt of a Publisher's Weekly review is posted. I agree with their comparison to Shirley Jackson's Hill House, although I didn't think of that until the last few pages. Rose House may or may not be haunted, but this story will haunt my thoughts for quite a while, and I'll be thinking of how Maritza copes with the revelations for an equal length of time. Highly recommended.
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