Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Ray Garton
Published by Leisure Horror
I’m relatively familiar with Garton’s work, having read a few of his short stories and novels, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got the latest from him with my usual Leisure package. I’ve made it a habit to not read the synopsis on the back of books, as the events are that much more surprising when I don’t know what’s coming, but in this case if I had, perhaps my expectations would’ve been more realistic.
The story starts off with a bang, detailing the night the Kellars wake up to find their youngest son, Josh, in severe pain from the headaches he’s been having almost constantly. His parents, Jenna and David, try to calm him down and give him migraine medication to soothe the pain, but the problem is much worse than a bad headache. Three-year-old Josh dies in his mother’s arms, and her world comes crashing down.
Cut to a few years later. The Kellars have moved into a new house with their other son, Miles, and Jenna’s mother, Martha, who needs supervision after a stroke a year or two previous. While at first it seems ideal for all of them, pretty soon Jenna starts seeing things that shouldn’t be there, chief among them a toddler wearing a blue jacket who appears out of thin air. At the same time Martha sees children playing on the swing set in the backyard, only for them to disappear “into the ground” moments later; and worst of all Miles is seeing a large fat man coming up out of his floor every night telling him he has to be a “good puppy”.
At first Jenna believes the toddler she’s seeing is Josh, attempting to contact her from the other side. She fears she’s losing it, but a friendly neighbor insists on helping her contact a medium to try and bring the truth to the surface. Meanwhile, David is being awoken on a nightly basis by the sound of children in the backyard and soon discovers some very strange things in the basement of their new home. Miles away in a different town, a psychic by the name of Lily begins to have visions of the Kellar house, visions of horrible things that both have and will happen there, visions she knows she cannot ignore without going insane.
Indeed, terrible things have happened in the Kellar house. Children were tortured, starved, and beaten by a man who lived there previously. The things they’re seeing aren’t just their over-stressed imaginations or, in Jenna’s case, a longing to see her dead son again; there really are malevolent forces in the family’s new house. For some reason, though, I never got the feeling that they were very threatening.
When a book opens with the death of a child, that line in the sand is crossed. The reader is thrust into the story wondering what other horrible and unexpected things the author will throw at them, whether it be for shock or to actually further the plot (or, in a best case scenario, both), but after the first hundred or so pages of The Loveliest Dead, I realized that there wasn’t to be much else that would surprise me.
Sure, the origins of the specters in the Kellar’s house are pretty disturbing, but there’s just an overall feeling of safety throughout the book that prevented the danger from ever feeling too palpable. This detracted from my enjoyment of the story, but not so much that I would write off The Loveliest Dead as a bad novel. Garton definitely has a feel for his characters and is able to make them feel very real, especially the psychic Lily, who is tortured throughout by her visions of the impending events; but that only made it all the more frustrating that I never truly felt any concern for their well being.
Maybe it was just me and my perceptions; maybe I’m just tired of haunted house stories that always seem to have a fantastical ending which rids the premise of the ghost, since I don’t believe it’s really possible to do such a thing. I’m not even sure what about the pacing or story led me to correctly assume they would all make it out okay, but it was a feeling I had for almost the entire book, so ultimately I was disappointed in the package as a whole. Garton’s a very talented writer, however, so I’m sure the book will do well. It does contain some pretty vivid imagery and description of the horrific events that went on in the house before the Kellars got there; I just wish the whole thing didn’t feel so safe.
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