I finished Mae Clair’s last book in her Hode’s Hill series, EVENTIDE. I loved the entire series. In each book, she combined a mystery from the past with a mystery in the present, AND she wove paranormal elements in with mystery elements. I’m a sucker for that combination. In EVENTIDE, though, she upped the ante since it was the last book. And as I was innocently reading along, enjoying the ghosts involved in the past mystery and wondering how they’d come into play in the present day story, all of a sudden, I was in the basement watching Madison’s love interest unfasten huge bolts from a cistern to see what was inside it.
You know those scenes in horror movies when you yell at the movie screen, “Don’t go in the basement!”??? That’s what I was doing with this book. “Don’t open the cistern!” But do the characters ever listen to you, the wise audience who’ve seen this before? No! So, they wrestled the lid off the cistern and a dark, evil spirit flew out of it and escaped. And that’s when the tone of this book changed and got LOTS creepier than the first two books in the series, and… it worked.
Lots of mysteries build tension the longer the hero/heroine searches for the killer. That’s always a good sign. But in this book, the minute the THING escapes the cistern, the tension ratchets to a new level. It never tips the scale into horror, but it comes VERY close. And since I don’t read scary books that often, I learned a thing or two.
Number one: The first kill had better be memorable. And it was. Poor Doug, he didn’t deserve what happened to him.
Number two: Near misses build more fear than an actual dead victim. First, because Mae Clair, being an evil author who knows her stuff, made us LIKE the poor overworked waitress at a favorite bar. We’d watched her work her fanny off trying to please customers who wanted their drinks NOW and didn’t care that someone had called in sick and she was trying to cover two sets of tables. We sympathized with her when she left the bar later than usual and had to walk to the parking garage alone to get her car. And we DIDN’T WANT HER TO DIE. So, when all of the lights went off in the garage and the horrible smell that made her gag hit her, we held our breaths and reached for our blankies. I won’t say what happened–I don’t want to give anything away–but don’t carry a flashlight to save anyone in a parking garage. It’s not pretty.
Number three: Plain, old, ordinary humans can be as scary as any monster when they’re a little off kilter. Yes, ghosts can be scary, but some ghosts can be good. Yes, an evil dark presence is ALWAYS scary, and it’s a good thing someone knows how to kill it. But yes, a person obsessed can make me reach for my blankie, too. He SCARED me.
Number 4: The final battle with the big, bad evil had better be memorable. I’d learned this before after reading too many of Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasies. But it held true here, too. When Dante grabbed a flashlight and a butcher knife to step out into the dark to confront the dark evil with a stench from hell, this was a make it or break it moment, and if he didn’t win, he’d be dead. I have to admit, only because I’ve read way too many urban fantasies, I wanted this moment to be bigger than it was, but it was plenty big for a mystery/thriller. And I really wanted this particular monster to DIE.
Number 5: A final twist is a pleasant surprise. At the end of the book, after warring ghosts and the monster, Mae Clair pulled off a wonderful surprise. And after everything dark that had happened in this book, I finished the final page and smiled.
All in all, I finished the book satisfied. It had delivered on so many different levels. And these are the kinds of books I like to think about and dissect, because I can learn from them. I might not ever use what I learn in my own writing. I can admire someone but never write like them. But that said, they still make think about the CRAFT of writing, and that’s a good thing.