Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker,
(Westbow, 2006)

Jack and Stephanie are married, but a tragedy has shaken that marriage to its roots, leaving Jack (an author) bitter and trying to find someone to blame, and Stephanie (an up-and-coming country singer) trying to hide from the past. They get lost on the way to a marriage counseling session and, after getting directions from a sheriff, who's half bully and half Don Rickles, they end up in the middle of extremely rural Alabama with four flat tires and a non-working cellphone. They hike to the only building around, an old house called the Wayside Inn.

Upon arrival, it seems that the only people there are Randy, a blowhard, know-it-all, bully businessman, and his girlfriend, Leslie, a psychologist. Randy and Leslie had a car "accident" nearby, that was identical to Jack and Stephanie's "accident." Then, rather abruptly, the apparent innkeepers show up. Betty is not bright, rather rude and tells everyone what to do. Betty's husband, Stewart, is not bright, not very clean and mildly threatening. Their adult son, Pete, is not at all bright, very muscular and looks at Stephanie and Leslie as wife candidates for himself.

If this sounds weird, this ain't nothin" yet. A serial killer named Barsidious White locks everyone in the house, stalks around outside (wearing a trenchcoat, a big hat and a tin mask), and eventually throws a tin can down the chimney, with a message on it, stating his rules:

1) God came to my house and I killed him.
2) I will kill anyone who comes to my house as I killed God.
3) Give me one dead body and I might let rule two slide.

Then, it gets a lot more weird. As Jack, Stephanie, Randy and Leslie try to figure out how to escape, while brooding on whether to accept White's last rule, Betty and Stewart get more aggressive and Pete goes wife-hunting.

Then, it gets a lot more weird. They all go into the basement, which is much bigger than the house, and there's something wrong with the mirrors and the doors down there. Susan, a little girl, shows up and claims to know how to help them escape.

Then, it gets a lot more weird. Jack, Stephanie, Randy and Leslie run into ... well, I don't want to spoil the whole story. Suffice it to say that the story gets stranger and stranger. The characters, and readers, keep thinking they've just about figured out what's going on, and then we all find out that it's bigger and stranger yet. Many things are not what they appear to be, and new layers of the story keep emerging.

While I am not a horror aficianado, I have read a fair amount of horror stories. Among those, the only ones that come to this level are Stephen King's Desperation, Thomas Tryon's The Other and Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, and this might be a bit better than those three. The writing of the Frank Peretti/Ted Dekker team is excellent. I can imagine those two sitting in a dark, fire-lit room, having a great time figuring out how to make a truly scary story. They succeeded.


P.S.: There is an advertisement at the end of the book, announcing that House will be coming to theaters in 2007. If cast well, and done faithfully, this will be truly scary. Where can I buy tickets?

by Chris McCallister
3 June 2006

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