Written by Aaron Dries
Published by Samhain Publishing
Sunday, November 12, 1995. A hot spring day in unassuming James River, New South Wales, Australia. Schoolgirl Suzie Marten was enjoying the last day of the weekend, dancing outdoors and dreading school the next day. Mailman Bobby Deakins, just home from a morning church service, was watching the Australian Grand Prix, followed by a footy game and then a nap. Bus driver Liz Frost sat on her bed, put a gun in her mouth and closed her eyes. Her day was just beginning…
And so begins Australian horror writer Aaron Dries’ horrific novel House of Sighs. An ordinary day, full of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, only to have those lives cross paths with the anything-but-ordinary Liz Frost.
Seven people board Liz’s bus that day: Sarah Carr – an elderly woman with a sick husband, Peter Ditton – a teenager with aspirations of being a writer, Steve Brown – an unemployed janitor, Diana Savage and Julia Belfry – stepsisters with Diana being an American visiting James River and Julia a pregnant teenager, the formerly obese Michael Delaney, and Jack Barker, the last passenger on the bus. With everyone on board, the nightmare begins. What follows is a horrific roller coaster ride for both the seven captives of Liz Frost and the reader. Who survives is the least of their problems.
Dries pulls NO punches as far as gore and gruesome set-pieces. Liz Frost, who considers the passengers her new “family”, takes them to meet her “old” family – a group of ockers (Aussie rednecks) who get it into their heads that the seven people on board Liz’s bus have somehow brought about Liz’s skeletal, horrifying appearance and mental decline and they must now exact revenge on the passengers. What follows is a cat and mouse game as the people on the bus do what they can to try to escape while the Frost family do what they can to kill everyone on board. Dries has created believable characters, both good and bad (although it eventually becomes hard to tell which is which as the novel literally counts down to its gut-punch of an ending; check out the chapter numbers to see what I mean), and it becomes difficult to read what happens as characters are graphically slaughtered.
What really sets House of Sighs apart from so many other “good vs. evil” horror novels is the unique setting. While there is a healthy horror literature culture in Australia, most of the books never make it to the US, which is unfortunate because, as we all know from films like Wolf Creek and Picnic at Hanging Rock, Oz is a scary place! In House of Sighs, aside from the scariness of the Frost family, there is the menacing Australian landscape as well as the unpredictable Australian weather, both of which only add to the precarious situation the passengers are in.
Aaron Dries has written a fast-paced, blood ‘n guts, edge-of-your-seat horror novel that should definitely establish him as an author to keep an eye on. His second novel, The Fallen Boys, is available now also, and word is it is even more “depraved” than House of Sighs. So get on the bandwagon and get yourself a copy of Dries’ freshman effort and be prepared to be blown away (so to speak – read the book and you’ll understand).
4 out of 5