Trevor, Randy, Ben and Carl are four ordinary teenagers; they play ice hockey on their school team and indulge in illicit booze and drugs. Then their music teacher is reported missing and Ben claims to have been witness to her abduction - to a house opposite his own that has been vacant for some years and alleged to be haunted. The events that follow the boys try their hardest to forget, and they swear never to talk about them to anyone. Everyone except Ben moves away from Grimshaw.
Over twenty years later, Trevor has early onset Parkinsons and is mourning a dead relationship although he has had a successful career as a businessman. Randy has tried to become a famous actor but is stuck with TV commercials and very minor roles. Carl seems to move around a lot and nobody can say precisely where he is or what he does. The three of them are drawn back to Grimshaw when Ben commits suicide, in his bedroom, in full view of the haunted Thurman house. Trevor starts a “memory diary” on his dictaphone, under the pretence of therapy, but really to record the story of their adventures so many years before and to try and discover why Ben was driven to take his own life.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you will have to suspend disbelief with the way this novel develops, as this particular ghost seems very sentient, very demonic, very resistant, and I hope I could be forgiven for thinking this is like The Exorcist without the pea soup. The influence of the ghost on the lives of the boys, and later the men, is more implied than stated, as their actions and words become more and more irrational. And yet, there is rationality in some of the excuses, making me a little confused at times as to whether they were in character or under the demonic power. I was also left wondering how an abandoned house could survive all those years without being pulled down, or why it seemed that only a particular group of people in the town had been influenced by it.
Once I forgot my misgivings, I was a good way through the book and realised that it is a well crafted and original novel that keeps you reading, not just because you want to see good triumph over evil. Pyper makes some wry observations about getting to a “certain age”, such as how the friends in your teens will forever be sixteen in your memory, and it is difficult, if not devastating, to face reality. A hero, or major character, with a severe disability is not new, and of course his weaknesses come to the fore often - he doesn’t let you forget it - and naturally is used in the denouement. Trevor is not only struggling with his illness, but his own motivations and emotions, and you can really sympathise and connect with him, despite him being partly in denial and angry with himself. I have had no direct or indirect contact with the condition, but the symptoms, and the way the character interacts and behaves with objects and other people, is very believable.
Despite the nightmareish overtones, Pyper doesn’t lay it on thick, and you can either leave the someof the situations to your own imagination, or sweep them from your mind before they can disturb your sleep. The ending is somewhat bitter sweet, and maybe not that satisfying for some readers.
If you like supernatural crime thrillers you may find the story lacks action and/or punch, and if you’re in it for the story, you may find the plot untenable. However, the characters and overall “spookiness” of the novel hold it together for a pretty enjoyable read.