Good horror novels must be devilishly hard to write well. There has to be a proper balance between gore and straightforward exposition; between the supernatural and the real; between those who look askance at magic until it is too late, and those who embrace magic regardless of their previous disbelief. Stephen M. Irwin gets the balance just right in his debut novel, The Dead Path.
Nicholas Close becomes enmeshed in the plans of a very, very old witch very early in his life. She has her eye on him because he has a “gift” — one not realized until his beloved wife dies, but one he cannot escape thereafter. Nicholas can see ghosts. More precisely, he sees the ghosts of people who died violent deaths at precisely the moment of their deaths. And he sees these scenes replayed over and over and over. It’s a wonder he’s not completely insane. Certainly he’s at the end of his rope when he returns to his hometown of Tallong, Australia, soon after he has buried his wife in London.
His return seems to stir something up in the town, though, and odd things start happening very fast. A boy disappears in a crime almost identical to that committed against Nicholas’s best friend when he was a child. A man commits suicide on Nicholas’s front porch. And the woods that seemed so frightening when he was a child are even worse now. Now his “gift” enables him to see the ghosts of children hauled off into the woods by invisible hands, children whose bodies turned up with their throats slit.
Little more can be said about this novel without giving away important plot points. You should have the opportunity to confront the thrills and chills of this book for yourself, and I do recommend that you give it a try. Irwin is a fine new addition to the horror genre, and I look forward to whatever he writes next.
One cool point, something I’ve never seen on a book before: when you put this book down at night and switch off the lamp, the jacket glows. Spooky!