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Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Devil of Echo Lake

During this year's 31 Days of horror, Douglass Wynne, the 2012 1st Place winner of Journal Stone's Horror Fiction contest joined me here on the blog.

I did not have time to post my review of his debut novel, The Devil of Echo Lake until now, but I assure you all, it will be worth the wait.

Billy has had 2 successful records and is about to record his third, the one that will make him go from popular, to legendary, but he is not sure how he got there. Using the well known Robert Johnston selling his soul at the crossroads to become a blues legend myth as a starting point, Wynne has Billy question whether or not he has unwittingly sold his soul to the Devil by hooking up with his record producer Trevor Rail. Or is he just too strung out to know the difference between what is really happening and what his brain is being paranoid about?
Trevor is dark and menacing. He could easily be the Devil here on Earth in the 21st Century, but he could also just be very good at his cut throat job.

Right now though, Billy has more pressing problems.  Trevor has booked him to spend the next 2 months recording at Echo Lake in an old church turned studio in a secluded part of upstate, NY (Sleepy Hollow flashbacks anyone?).  The bulk of the novel takes place during these 2 terrifying months as the record is recorded but people are also mysterious dying in violent, tragic, "accidents."

Point of view jumps around frequently.  This is a common tactic in horror these days.  It really enhances the anxiety and dread as the reader is sent around to see everyone's feelings, thoughts, and motives.  It helps to sustain the unsettling atmosphere even in moments of seeming calm.

There are some great lines here too, like this one from the middle of the book:
"What Kevin Brickhouse saw next, he would not understand for the rest of his life, which was now the length of a song." (94-95 of the ARC)
Talk about menacing.  But it is also succinct.  This is some very good horror writing, and in a debut novel.  Good things will come from Wynne in the future. I am excited to see what his dark mind dreams up next.

One of the other strong points of the writing here is how Wynne plays off of the isolated church and the forest it is surrounded by.  There are shadows everywhere.  Some are just natural, but others are definitely not of this world. He draws out the fine line between reality and supernatural perfectly, stringing both the reader and Billy Moon along until neither of us knows which way is up.
This is a story where things go from bad to worse to terrifying. The situation in Echo Lake has a resolved ending, but the fate of Billy Moon himself is left open. Some reviewers have mentioned that the ending is not really horror, more fantasy, but I disagree. I did not feel as if it is as resolved as these people seem to think especially since the entire book has been created to make us question whether what we see is the whole truth.  You can decide for yourself though.

This is a very good horror novel with a demonic possession theme.  The characters are well developed, but it is the sense of dread and unease that hangs over the novel from the first line ["Billy Moon didn't know exactly when he had sold his soul."] to the last lines.  If you are also a  fan of devil themed horror, ancient evil horror, or the extreme isolated setting, you should read this novel.  It is a solid example of those subgenres.
On a side appeal note, there is a lot of detail about being in a band, writing songs, and making a record here.  People who are in bands or just love rock music will find much to enjoy here.

Three Words That Describe This Book: dread, musicians, selling soul to devil

Readalikes:  The first book I though of when reading The Devil of Echo Lake was Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, but mostly for the rock musician angle.

In terms of the writing style (shifting narrators), oppressive sense of dread, the east-coast rural wooded setting [with the evils lurking in the woods], and well developed characters Wynne's novel is reminiscent of another amazing debut, Ghost-Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry.  Click here for a full review.

Finally, the entire what is real, what is not tug of war described above reminded me of another book I really enjoyed, Ghost Radio by Leopoldo Gout.  I really enjoyed that book, especially in audio.

**Full disclosure, I received a free ARC of this novel for review

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