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The Blackhouse

A Novel


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About The Book

From the author of the “dark and devious...beautifully written” (Stephen King) Mirrorland comes an “atmospheric, thrilling, and utterly captivating” (Booklist) gothic tale set on a remote Scottish island where the locals are hiding a deadly secret.

Maggie Mackay has been haunted her entire life. No matter what she does, she can’t shake the sense that something is wrong with her. And maybe something is…

When she was five years old, Maggie announced that a man on the remote island of Kilmeray in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides—a place she’d never visited—was murdered. Her unfounded claim drew media attention and turned the locals against each other, creating rifts that never mended.

Now, nearly twenty years later, Maggie is determined to discover what really happened, and what the villagers are hiding. But everyone has secrets, and some are deadly. As she gets closer to the horrifying truth, the island’s legendary and violent storms begin to rage again and Maggie’s own life is in danger…

Unnerving, enthralling, and filled with gothic suspense, The Blackhouse is a spectacularly sinister tale readers won’t soon forget.


Prologue Prologue
It wasn’t the screams he remembered most, although they crashed to shore inside the howling, furious wind and ricocheted for hours around the high cliffs above the beach. It wasn’t the storm or the roaring, foaming waves that carved great snaking wounds through the wet sand and stole its shape from under his feet.

It wasn’t the dark or the flashing torchlight. Or the frantic hours of men pushing boats into the wild surf: motorboats, fishing boats, even old wooden sgoths. All to be smashed into the bay’s high headlands or hurled back onto the shore like stones from a slingshot.

It wasn’t the long, tired wails of the women whose silhouettes stood in a clifftop vanguard ahead of the silver-starred inland sky. Nor those waving white arms out on the rocks, which became slower and less frequent as the screamed chorus grew quieter. And it wasn’t the wondering about which of those arms, those bobbing heads that disappeared and sometimes reappeared, belonged to his father.

It wasn’t even the eerie silence that came after. The exhaustion of energy and grief and hope. The exhaustion of wind and rain and thunder and sea.

It was the tide bell out on those rocks. Its low, heavy ring growing ever more muffled under the weight of water and all that time.

And it was the black tower casting an invisible shadow over the sand and bay and calming waves.

They were always what he remembered the most. Sometimes they were all he could think about.

The tide bell. And the black tower.

And knowing that every man on those rocks would never come back. Because of him.

Because of what he’d wanted. Because of what he’d done.

Reading Group Guide

Past and present collide when Maggie MacKay decides to go back to the Isle of Kilmeray, a place she hasn’t been since she was a child, to uncover the truth of what happened there twenty-five years ago. The villagers are not pleased to see that strange little Maggie has returned, all grown up and with even more questions than before about the death of Robert Reid.

In 1994, Robert Reid lived on the Isle of Kilmeray, haunted by his past. Instead of ingratiating himself into the villagers’ lives, he sets himself apart at every turn. Maggie is there to unravel the circumstances of Robert’s death. On this haunted island, nothing is as it seems, and Maggie’s pursuit of the truth puts her in grave danger.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When present-day Maggie first arrives on Kilmeray, her immediate experience with the islanders—Jaz, Kelly, Gillian, and Bruce—is positive. How does this interaction set the tone for Maggie’s relationship with them throughout the course of the book?

2. At multiple points in the novel, Maggie stops herself from revealing the recent death of her mother. Why do you think she feels the need to hide such a large part of her story?

3. On page 50, Maggie recalls her mother’s fierce proclamation: “Mental illness is a tool of repression and ignorance.” What does this tell you about Maggie’s mother and do you think her statement has some truth to it?

4. When Maggie encounters Charlie on the bluffs, he tells her of strange sightings on the island, which serve to bolster Maggie’s fear of the crows she’s recently found. He goes on to mention “thin places” and tells her that Kilmeray is one. Did you believe Kilmeray truly is a “thin place”?

5. When we first meet Robert, we know right away that he is a haunted man. In contrast, he describes fellow islander, Charlie MacLeod, as “smiling, charming, everyone’s friend” (page 70). What does Charlie represent to Robert? And how does Charlie differ in the past from the present?

6. Maggie sees and hears strange things throughout the course of the novel and has a growing suspicion that someone on the island is trying to scare her. Why doesn’t Maggie mention anything to people she has befriended? And how does her fear work against her in finding answers?

7. Both Maggie and Robert feel drawn to the island and are compelled to stay longer once they’re there. How do their relationships with the island differ? What are the similarities?

8. The villagers play a prominent role in the novel, often hindering Maggie and Robert but other times providing them with support. Discuss the ways the villagers hide the truth, and also how they help.

9. Mary is obviously devoted to Robert, but he becomes so absorbed in his own self-hatred, that he begins to believe Mary is conspiring against him. What did you think Mary was thinking? Did her evolution surprise you? How does this novel make us think about marriage and partnerships today?

10. Both Maggie and Robert suffer from some form of mental illness. Robert, in 1994, is unable to receive proper care while Maggie, in 2019, is prescribed medication and receives a certain level of community support (from both Will and Kelly) but still struggles with acceptance. Consider conversations around mental health as well as our healthcare system. How do these characters’ experiences reflect what we see in our society today?

11. The island itself is richly atmospheric and memorably described. How are both Maggie and Robert affected by the island’s moods and elements?

12. How did you feel about the choice Maggie makes at the end of the novel?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Research Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to get a better sense of the rich setting of The Blackhouse.

2. Read Carole Johnstone’s first book, Mirrorland, for another fabulously atmospheric and twisty thriller!

About The Author

© Julie Broadfoot

Carole Johnstone is the award-winning author of the novels Mirrorland and The Blackhouse. She lives in the Highlands of Scotland, although her heart belongs to the wild islands of the Outer Hebrides.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (February 6, 2024)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982199685

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