House of Fallen Trees (Book)

House of Fallen TreesReviewed by Elaine Lamkin

Written by Gina Ranalli

Published by Grindhouse Press

I had high hopes for this book from “bizarro” horror writer Gina Ranalli. From the opening sentence, “Two men have the carcass”, the story tells the tale of Karen Lewis, an author herself, whose brother, Sean, went missing months ago in Washington State. One day she gets a call from Sean’s personal and professional partner, Rory Luden, informing her that Sean has left his half of a VERY strange bed-and-breakfast to her. After a series of bizarre events revolving around the message she received about two men having a carcass, Karen decides to go to the small town of Fallen Trees to see if she can answer the question of what happened to her brother and what the message she continues to receive really means.

This book has some VERY creepy set-pieces in it – the scene in the basement; the dreams Karen continues to have in the bed-and-breakfast where she has decided to stay with Rory and his new partner, Saul; the framed photographs which…change; the mural of the builder’s wife, Matilda Storm, painted over the bed in the master bedroom; the fleas; the “bleeding” walls. And the ever-present wind that makes every inch of the house creak and groan like a ship at sea.

Now THIS is where I started to be…disappointed? The house was built by a Naval captain to look like a SHIP (I wish there had been a floor plan of the house in the book as it was hard to picture the interior of a ship-shaped house), but there was very little backstory on the house’s history other than it was built in 1866 by a Captain Frank Storm for his wife, Matilda. This is where I started my decline into “oh well”. There were SO many opportunities for the author to expand on things: How about Karen trying to dig into the history of the house or get to the bottom of some of the creepy set-pieces. She HAD a laptop with her and she IS an inquisitive writer. Lost opportunity. Things happen and then…nothing. On to the next bit of weirdness.

Some things never made a whole lot of sense either: Why would Rory and Sean, a gay couple, try to restore this strange house in the middle of nowhere when the nearest town had already taken a “dislike” to the two? Why did Karen go from a seemingly strong woman who traveled cross-country to meet a complete stranger but, once ensconced in the house, became the stereotypical screaming (a LOT!) “damsel in distress”? And there were the usual typos so common to small press books although I will hand it to Grindhouse Press that these were few and far between. There was ONE howler of a continuity error involving a character throwing a glass at something, shattering it against the wall, but on the next page the character retrieves the glass intact to have a drink (but for a small press I won’t deduct points for that). And what was the deal with the dog, Dusty, and the trees? Eco-horror?

I’m not sure if the book was meant to be a ghost story or a haunted house story or what. It did manage to scare me a few times, and there were a couple of scenes one would read in a ghost story, but the ending left me cold. Kind of a cop-out ending to a really promising book. I know that Ms. Ranalli has a pretty large fanbase, but this was the first thing I have read by her, and I will say that, bottom line, I enjoyed The House of Fallen Trees but think it could have been a much more detailed book, perhaps a la Stephen King’s The Shining with more about the house’s history as well as more information on the Storm family. And it was never clear to me what the phrase “Two men have the carcass” had to do with anything. Perhaps I need to re-read the book one day.

3 out of 5

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