Title: House of Echoes
Author: Brendan Duffy
Genre: Fiction, Horror
Life in the city has become strained for Ben and Caroline Tierney, so when Ben’s grandmother dies and leaves him property in the remote New England village of Swannhaven, they decide that this is the place for a fresh start. They sink their savings into the Crofts, a magnificent old house they hope to renovate into an inn. But their new beginning is marred when dead animals start appearing in the forest--and on their front porch. Strange cries erupt from the house when the wind blows, and their eldest boy, Charlie, spends more and more time alone in the woods. As Ben, a novelist, begins researching the town, he finds a troubling history of tragedy: mysterious fires, missing children, and a terrible winter of starvation from the time of the American Revolution. It is a history deeply linked with his own family. Alas, Ben is about to discover that not everything in the past stays buried.
I picked up this book at Barnes and Noble, because I was interested in reading a horror book, and I liked the idea of an old inn in a (possibly) haunted woods. After skimming the first chapter, I noted that the prose was smooth and clear, and the strained family relationship intrigued me. I bought House of Echoes, and I’d read a chapter or two in the evening, while taking a bath or before going to sleep.
About mid-way through the book, I started to think, This has to be the most relaxing horror book, I’ve ever read. In fact, I began to wonder if it was actually a horror novel at all--mutilated animals aside. Most of the tension comes from the family drama. The relationship between husband and wife is cracked from the start, and it only continues to grow. This is done realistically and subtly.
The prose has a calming effect. The descriptions are clear, almost factual, but not very emotional. I don’t think I ever felt scared. Nor was House of Echoes very suspenseful. I could easily put the book down. There was a sense of dread. I knew something bad was going to happen; it had to happen. But that seemed far off into the future. There was no sense of urgency.
At one point, Ben, an author, vents about how difficult it is to write the middle of a book were, and I wondered if the author, Brendan Duffy, also struggled with this. There did not seem to be a lot going on in the middle of House of Echoes. The family drama simmers, weird incidents happen, there is exposition and set-up, but plot-wise, the novel stalls.
I did feel invested in the family and curious about the nature of the vague threats. That was enough to keep me reading. The plot finally kicks into gear the very end of Part III, roughly 270 pages into a 384 page novel. Suspense, movement, and urgency propel the book forward. I read the last 100 pages in one sitting. Plot threads, including the vague hints about the winter of starvation in 1777, tie together neatly. I felt the “Aha!” moment of a mystery solved, and that left me satisfied. But I still wasn’t frightened.
Was it so terrible that I found House of Echoes relaxing? In this case, I liked knowing that I could put the book down, that I didn’t feel the pressure to binge-read the whole thing. Ultimately, House of Echoes works better as a family drama than as a horror novel. It favors character over plot, realism over the supernatural, and subtle tensions over emotionality. It was a perfectly enjoyable read.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.