Written by Deborah LeBlanc
Published by Leisure Books
The second novel has got to be a lot of pressure for a new author, but luckily for Deborah LeBlanc, her writing skills were more than up to the task with Grave Intent, the follow up to Family Inheritance.
The story begins with a strange ritual 19 years ago. A young gypsy woman, Anna Stevenson, has given birth to a beautiful little girl. When the girl is only a few months old, however, her husband Ephraim, the domineering leader of their clan, demands she must be branded for a safe trip to the afterlife upon the occasion of her death. It’s a new tradition, but to him it’s one that assures his little girl will be safe in the on the other side, despite the dangers to his daughter. Quite a harrowing bit of storytelling here, as the tension slowly builds to the moment the tradition is enacted, and it’s a great way to kick off the story.
Present day, and the young girl from the beginning has died due to an accident while riding a horse. The wake is being handled by our main character, Michael Savoy, who has to deal with the large gypsy clan that is trashing his funeral home, as well as the return of his estranged father, begging for money to help him pay off a loan shark who’s threatening to kill him if he doesn’t get the money soon.
A ceremony takes place at the wake the sees the girls’ father produce a gold coin and has it placed in the hands of his dead daughter, which is said to ensure safe passage for her spirit. Later, Michael realizes the coin has been stolen from the corpse, and his father has yet again disappeared. Needless to say the gypsies aren’t thrilled, and Savoy is told that he has 48 hours to get the coin back or he and his entire family will die. Horribly. Mercilessly. Painfully.
The story flows very well after the first hundred pages or so, though it does seem to take a while to ramp up into the truly scary side of things, not getting any steam in that department until after the 200 page mark. A lot of the time is spent setting up some suspense, but it’s mainly to give us a closer look at the main characters; namely Michael and his wife.
Character-wise, the storytelling is solid and it’s obvious LeBlanc had a clear picture of these people in her head, even if they come off a bit generic at times, but that can be forgiven considering the situation they’re thrust into. Outside of that I did have some issues with it.
The introduction, and indeed many scenes at the funeral home, set up Ephraim, the dead girl’s father, as a fairly central character; you get the feeling will be a part of the horror when it all comes down. Instead shortly after the mother takes some desperate measures to help her daughter’s spirit, he and all the other members of the family, save for her grandfather, disappear all together. While this is important for the story of Michael attempting to reach his family in time, I found myself wishing a bit more were being done with the gypsy angle of the tale, which had been set up solidly at the beginning. Granted, the source of the Savoy’s family’s terror comes from the clan, but it seemed almost secondary in the overall plot.
There are other threads like this that are placed out there but seem to go nowhere, or at least are never explained to my satisfaction. On one side of the coin I found it frustrating, mainly because I want to know more about what’s going on, but on the other side I see it as a ballsy move to not feature moments of exposition that just wouldn’t take place in the real world in order to give a clearer idea of what’s going on. LeBlanc gives us just enough to make us care about her characters and realize the danger they’re in, and no more. That kind of move will always upset someone, and if that’s you I hope you can see it from the other side, as well.
All in all, Grave Intent is a solid sophomore effort from an emerging talent. I hope she’s able to stretch her skills out into more topics with her next story, and maybe give her characters a little more personality. She’s definitely got some great ideas, and I’m interested to see what she comes up with next.
3 out of 5
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