This is my second Simmons novel, and I must say that he is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. I read this book without knowing that “Summer of Night” came before it… which is sad because I bought them both together an am now apparently reading them out of order. Never the less, I had no trouble following the story without having read the preceding novel. I think having read it would have filled me in a bit on some of the information that the sheriff seems to randomly blurt out toward the end of the novel, but it didn’t really bother me.
Dale is an interesting character; pitiful, deplorable at times, yet not so appalling as to make him hard to root for. After destroying his life and his relationships through bad choice after bad choice, a failed suicide attempt sends him back to his childhood to try to write a novel while sorting through his past. Dale drifts in and out of possible madness, as the reader you are never sure… is he being haunted by ghosts? His past? Or simply madness? Is he loosing his mind or are there hell hounds growing and growling in the night outside of his childhood friend’s house. The tragic death of his childhood friend has scarred him, though we are never sure how deeply. Is Dale writing notes to himself or communicating with his long dead childhood friend Duane?
Most of the complaints about the “slow pace” of the book come from the flashbacks Dale has of his life with Claire. Clair is not a very likeable person and we know that Dale has thrown his marriage away to be with her, and of course… it ended badly between them. Also we have chapters from the perspective of a spirit we assume to be Duane, watching Dale and telling us a bit of what he sees from the outside. The spirit chapters bothered me a bit; particularly at the end when I wondered why, if the spirit was so eloquent was it so cryptic in it’s warnings to him. Perhaps it knew that Dale must traverse this path whether it wanted him to or not.
Dale’s choice to live in his dead friend’s farmhouse is a strange one, and when it seems that the reader has figured out what is going on, the twists guide you into a new direction. I went through a range of guesses hoping always to be wrong. For the most part I was, and I am glad for it. I like to be surprised by a novel. Though I didn’t find the book to be “Hair Raising” or “Spine tingling” I did find it to be a wonderfully enjoyable read. Well written and perplexing without being confusing. You find yourself just as baffled by events as Dale and hoping that he finds a way to survive either the madness or the haunting. 4.5 out of 5 stars… excellent read!