Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A well constructed haunted house story.


By John Gregory Hancock


Publisher: DeadPixel Publications

Pub. Date: November 14, 2014 

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Haunted house novels can be a lot of fun but are full of logistical traps for the writer. A good haunted house novel is essentially a psychological horror novel. The haunting is important but it is the people who are being haunted who make up the story no matter how creative your house and resident spirits are. Both Shirley Jackson and Richard Matheson were very aware of that. So is John Gregory Hancock. His novel, Crawlspace may not be the equivalence of such masterpieces as The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House. What is? But it is still a rousing good tale of a haunted house and haunted people.

A good haunting usually depends on either the psychology of the haunted (Hill House) or the nature of the haunting (Hell House) which can also be psychological. Hancock gives us both. In Crawlspace we have the character of Ethan Novotney, a distant cousin to Hill House’s Eleanor Vance in his fragile personality and his claustrophobic fears. We meet him early on as he is headed to an allegedly haunted Southern plantation to appear in a filming of a "Ghost Hunter" styled reality TV show. That is the first aspect. The novel leaves him for a good while as we are given the story that reveals the nature of the haunting. It entails a African shaman who is shipped to the US as a slave in the 19th century, an evil girl, and a troubled World War II soldier. The best part of Hancock’s tale is how he blends these three characters together in the development of the horrors of the plantation house. By the time we return to contemporary times and Ethan, we have all the elements in play. There are a lot of dread and scares in this novel which is an essential ingredient for this type of novel but most of all I like the way the characters interact together. I wish I felt the same for the reality TV crew which seems to be the weak link, having little character development and basically being just there to fill in the blanks. It remains for Ethan and the spirits of the house to move this tale along.

Crawlspace has some nice elements to it; a strong backstory, a fragile but thoughtful main protagonist, and sufficiently vivid spirits of which their intentions are varied. While it is a standalone novel in one way, it is also the first of a series that uses some of the characters to continue the story apparently away from the haunting. It also has a bit of a tease and cliffhanger at the end. I wish that was made clearer at the beginning or in the blurb on the book as it weakens some of the resolution. There is also a resolution regarding Ethan’s girlfriend that felt tacked on and unconnected to the bulk of the story. Yet Crawlspace remains an entertaining and scary haunted house tale that effectively brings together Ethan’s fears and the intentions of the spirit of the house. I recommend this to anyone who likes a good haunted house story.

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