by Sarah Langan
Review by Steve Sawicki
HarperTorch Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 006087290X
Date: 29 August, 2006 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Bedford, Maine is the kind of place that makes you wonder what people were thinking when they settled there. It rains--a lot, it has a bloody past based on industrial abuse, and it's most likely been seriously polluted by the paper mill which was the sole employer of the population until it shut down. The residents who are left wallow in self pity, alcohol abuse, depression and a sense of self defeat that is almost palpable. Susan Marley, once a beauty queen, seems to embody all of this. Abused, beaten, having fled home at 17, Susan now prostitutes herself for food and rent while the rest of the town watches with a morbid fascination. When Susan is found dead, the townspeople are both outraged and relieved. When Susan begins appearing in their dreams, the feelings turn to horror, for it seems that Susan may be dead but she's not gone. In fact, she's waiting for something, something that promises redemption and an end--to everything.
This is Sarah Langan's first book and it's a creepy combination of mystery, thriller and horror. The book is described as a haunted house novel and that's an accurate description albeit this is more of a haunted town novel. Langan manages to give her setting an almost palpable sense of loss and foreboding. She describes a place that we have all been to at one time or the other and have spent no little effort in getting out of quickly. But the residents of the town have not had such good luck and are trapped as much by the environment they are in as by their own personal failings.
I happened to read this book on a plane, which is about as far away from haunted houses and towns as you can get and it still creeped me out. I found the writing to be exceptional. Langan manages to capture the small town gravity that keeps people there even though they have failed and know that they will continue to fail so long as they stay. Her use of the weather and the surroundings to convey this is darn near brilliant. The use of Susan as, first a scapegoat and then a redeemer is fitting to the setting and the characters. That Langan manages to pull this novel from the pit of depression she creates is just another measure of her writing ability. This is definitely a book you'll want to read when the wind blows cold and the dark comes early.