Sweetheart, Sweetheart

January 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

sweetheartSweetheart, Sweetheart by Bernard Taylor

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The Elementals by Michael McDowell was my first foray into Valancourt Books, a publishing company whose goal is to reprint classic, atmospheric horror novels (among other subjects). It was a great book, as was Robert Masello’s Burnt Offerings, another of their reprints, so I’ve started paying attention to them. Sweetheart, Sweetheart is another of their reprints, and it’s also the book Charles L. Grant thought was one of the best ghost stories ever written, so of course I had to read this one, too. I found it on special on audio book and got started on it right away.

David Warwick, an English expatriate living in the US, has a twin brother back in England. When he misses a birthday card from him one year, he gets a foreboding sense of dread and makes the trip back to England to see him. Once there, he learns that his brother and his wife died within days of each other, only a week or so before. He moves into the cottage that was left to him, and tries to learn the circumstances around their deaths. As he does, he finds secrets, history, and suspicion, all surrounding not just their deaths, but also the cottage in which they lived.

The novel is a slow-burn ghost story, with Taylor giving us the details of it piece by piece. Some may find it slow, but I appreciated the deliberate pace of the story. If nothing else, it built up the tension and increased the atmosphere. As the story progressed, I starting wondering how much of the story was real and how much of it was the haunting. By the end, I didn’t have to wonder.

I had trouble with David’s character, because a lot of the trouble he creates could have been avoided had he spoken to other people more. While trying to figure out the mystery behind his brother’s death, he speaks plenty, but when he starts to suspect problems with his wife and his housekeeper, he clams up until things get out of control. He seemed passive-aggressive and whiny, but maybe that was the point. He didn’t strike me as an unreliable narrator, but his character was annoying.

The first half of the book moves slowly, but isn’t unimportant. Taylor has to go a long way back to set the scene for the book, and that involves going back to David’s life in the US before he goes back to England. It helps create the atmosphere and the character of David, and even the tangents and red herrings are necessary to build the tension. It just might take a while before the reader is caught up in the events, but by the time he is, he won’t be able to stop.

The narrator, Matt Godfrey, is wonderful. His voice is a bit raspy, but it fits the story. He captures the voices of his characters well, and adds just enough to the telling so he’s not just reading the narrative, he’s performing it. There are a lot of characters that make up the history of the cottage, and it’s easy to lose track of who’s who without going back to listen to previous chapters, but other than that quibble, there’s no reason to read the book versus listening to the audiobook. The production is outstanding.

That the book is considered to be a classic is no accident. It’s a perfect example of a Gothic horror novel and a modern horror novel. It eschews violence and gore for a subtler, more effective horror that creeps up on you as slowly as the story. Any horror fan should read this book; it’s damn near perfect.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “The Hero’s Return” by Pink Floyd

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