Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A well structured Gothic mystery

House of Echoes

By Brendan Duffy

Publisher: Ballantine Books 

Pub. Date: April 14, 2015

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Brendan Duffy's debut novel House of Echoes appears to cover a lot of old Gothic horror and mystery ground. Ben and Caroline Tierney, torn by several unfortunate turn of events, inherits a suitably large and forbidding house in the country. It appears to be a second chance for them. They plan to make it into a bed and breakfast inn and at first things are going well. But soon strange happenings occur. Their son is spending a lot of time in the woods, eviscerated animal corpses appear on their land and Caroline's re-occurring mental condition is apparently taking a turn for the worse. Add to this an isolated township of long time residents holding on to their secrets and you have the makings of a typical Gothic novel.

Yet perhaps not so typical. While Duffy has all the ingredients, he is not content to go by the book so to speak. The author has an interest in getting into the mind of his characters especially Ben Tierney, a novelist whose second book did not do nearly as well and has given him a insecure mindset tailor-made to react to the mysteries he is about to face. Caroline is fragile but not so fragile that we cannot see her strengths. Eight year old Charlie seems eight years old, not a precocious tot going on 40 which seems to be the norm in horror nowadays. He is in many ways the catalyst to the events to come. The author blends in an elaborate story of the creation of the village and its families. He gives us letters from the original 18th century settlers to ease us into the tale but the real meat of the backstory is nicely woven through the oral memories of the modern day villagers. The heavy investment in character is what drives the novel and kept me to the end. There is a lot of atmosphere in the pages of this book.

Yet this may also be an issue for some readers as one can miss the subtleties and yearn for a little more action. There are pivotal scenes that gives us a jolt now and then but the proverbial "all hell breaks loose" doesn't come until the ending when we are bombarded by all the answers. It is a satisfying ending that rewards the reader. At the end I felt like I not only understood the Tierney family but was immersed in the mystery surrounding them. The basic feel in this modern Gothic novel is that of a mystery, but there are plenty of eerie surprises sprinkled throughout to intrigue the horror fan.

If one is looking for an intriguing and intellectual entry in the Gothic Mystery, they will find it in House of Echoes. If it does drag a little at times, it is the type of drag that still tells us about the characters and moves us along in the mystery. As mentioned, this is the author's first novel and it is an impressive first try.

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