Tom Orrell,
Not Alone Out Here
(Xlibris, 2003)

The back of the book promises an "old-fashioned ghost story," but Not Alone Out Here doesn't deliver the punch I expected from a classic haunting. The story by Tom Orrell is interesting -- it is a fairly no-frills ghost story that builds tension through atmosphere. Unfortunately, Orrell relates the story in a dry, dispassionate first-person narrative that fails to involve the reader. The protagonist, a new widower with two children, may tell me he's scared, but I never feel it.

As for the children, they primarily exist as cardboard cut-outs. Orrell never gives us anything that makes them real, or even relevant to the tale. The various characters who interact with our hero -- be they friendly neighbors, paranormal investigators or possible ghosts -- never advance past the level of background support. No one and nothing here makes me jump, nothing makes me uneasy, nothing makes me care.

Orrell's writing needs polish. His dialogue, sparingly used, reads like a radio script. People don't really talk like that. His narrative is halting, stilted and redundant; phrases are used and reused to underscore every detail, and Orrell needs to learn that 10 well-crafted words can say a lot more than 50 wasted ones. Consider this passage from the denouement:

It was getting late and I thanked all my houseguests again for their contributions in solving my most unusual problems. They literally saved my children, my life and my sanity. The children hugged them all goodbye before they went up to bed. I will never forget what they did for me and will be forever grateful to them. As I told everyone goodbye and embraced them, they wished me well. I knew I would be just fine now, thanks to their invaluable assistance. I urged them all to stay in touch as I felt the bonds we had developed through our struggles would last a lifetime. I would never forget them and all they had done for me in my time of need.

And that's near the end, when the action is over. Imagine that sort of tedious recitation throughout the bits that are meant to be exciting. The book, already a slender volume, feels bloated, sodden with excessive vocabulary on every page. Instead of writing a short novel, Orrell should have tried for a short story -- and it might have worked.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 20 December 2003

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