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The Crooked House

By

John Longeway

 
 

This story starts out with a rather typical example of social service system failure. Lilith, a waif of unknown origin, has careened through the foster care system in the usual haphazard manner, finally breaking free at age 16 to forge her own destiny. When we discover that she is working her way through college and succeeding we sit up and take notice. Of course, she is also psychic. And really, really scared.


All right. Now I'm hooked.


Conflict, tension and a feeling of impending doom start early (the first page) and are almost unrelenting. Evil gradually moves deeper and deeper into her life, destroying the security of each successive place of refuge: her street, her job, her home, the bus, the college. Spooky city nights, surreal dreams, voices in her head, ghoulish characters appearing and disappearing. At the end of Chapter 3 the suspense builds to a climax when the evil characters attack her. She loses the fight and wakes up in a nightmare world where the real terror starts. Running through the ever-changing rooms of the crooked house, chased by the slow, heavy footsteps and beastlike breathing of a snorting monster and the screams and laughter of lost souls, her only choice is to hide, aided by the few "good" occupants of the house, until she can develop the power to fight back.


John Longeway is in most ways a competent and polished writer. Sympathetic (or evil) characters are sketched in concise terms. Settings are described in precise and intricate detail, although I heard too many echoes of other horror stories: dead gardens, peeling wallpaper, creaky floors, decaying wood, ghostly moans and laughter, and all the familiar trappings of the genre. He excels at the terror, however. He starts small, then piles it on, bit by tiny bit, until the weight makes us want to scream.


In fact, I felt that the terror was a bit too unrelenting. It is a quirk of human nature that we can become inured to almost anything, including fear. If a story piles on fright after fright, sooner or later we get used to it, and it starts to affect us less and less. A see-saw from terror to happiness and back again, however, can really grab us, haul us into the story and keep us there. For example, in the continuous horror of the first chapters, one bright light is Frida, Lilith's co-worker in the diner, with her motherly attitude and down-to-earth humour. More of her up-beat nature in counterbalance to the terror outside would have made a fuller and more enthralling experience.


To sum up: Strong characters, great suspense, and a fine read. Recommended for horror fans. 4 stars out of 5.


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