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on Feb. 07, 2012 :
I am almost always in the mood for a haunted house tale. I don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, so you might think that's weird, but I just really enjoy a good ghost story. And after reading a glut of urban fantasy, I was especially ready to sit back with a good ol' fashioned horror novel like this one from Barry.
Terrence Bennett is an author and paranormal investigator--a skeptical one at that. He and Jack and Hank, his two-man crew, head into the woods of southern Virginia to spend the weekend inside the subject of his latest book: Hammer House. While Jack and Hank are believers in the supernatural after a particularly eventful experience in a purportedly haunted site, Terrence holds a more skeptical and disdainful attitude towards ghosts and the like. Hammer House will take care of that, though.
Have you ever been out in the woods and found an old, abandoned house? Just the sight of it is unsettling. It's a bit like seeing an old shipwreck on dry land. Well, Hammer House has that going for it and a whole lot more. The place is notorious among the residents of Ponderbrook for its multiple incidents of murder and death. Cozy.
Terrence, Jack, and Hank set up shop inside the house and try to see if they can capture any evidence of the paranormal. The place instantly gives off a bad vibe, even with Terrence, but aside from weird experiences while there, their time there is relatively uneventful. Oh, some crazy stuff goes on, but their after evidence, not anecdotes. Terrence becomes obsessed with his book once he is back home with his wife and young son, and as days pass a subliminal grip seems to take him, with violent images overtaking him and a compulsive urge to both finish the book and act out some really grotesque fantasies intruding on his imagination. Meanwhile, Jack and Hank are unable to shake the eery things they felt while in Hammer House too, but it's when they scrutinize the film footage they recorded that they realize something really did happen out there in the woods, and they need to warn Terrence.
When I first started reading this book and realized the main characters were ghost hunters, I became a bit skeptical about how much I would enjoy this book. That's because I am almost no interest in those ghost hunting shows that pollute cable TV. Have you seen them? You must have seen at least one. They're ridiculous, especially one I saw recently involving three guys who lock themselves in haunted houses, called Ghost Adventures. Fortunately, Barry's three guys are infinitely more likable, and the story is infinitely more engaging than anything I've seen from those real ghost hunters.
It is damned difficult to approach the haunted house story with something fresh. Like vampires, it's a well-worn genre, but one that I love. And Barry took really good care of it by creating a house that harkens to some of those classic ones like the Overlook from The Shining and that house in Amityville, yet still creates its own identity, especially when the fifth window appears. I won't go into any more detail than that, just trust me that the house is like a sleeping dragon and that window is like the beast opening one eye. That's the impression I got, anyway.
The book has its slow points, and there were a few times where the exposition got long-winded. And while I didn't have any trouble with the viewpoint changes among the main characters, there were points where the viewpoint switched to the spirit in the house, and that's something I've never been keen on. One of my peeves with ghost stories. Aside from some fat that could have been trimmed from the book, I really enjoyed it. If you have an affinity for haunted houses, or at least stories about them, you ought to consider this one.
(reviewed long after purchase)