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Book Review: Dagon by Fred Chappell (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Green-tinted handcuffs and a keyhole that reveal the face of a lizard.Summary:
Peter doesn’t know much about his father’s side of the family as his mother left him when he was little.  Now, a married pastor, he returns to his father’s parents’ house, a recent inheritance.  Slowly he discovers the cultist history of his family and begins his descent into madness.

Review:
There aren’t that many books in the Lovecraft mythos, so when I spot one, I almost always add it to my wishlist and pick it up if I spot it.  (I’m a big fan of the mythos, and my current work in progress is set in it).  I spotted this one during one of Better World Books’ periodic sales and got it for just a couple of dollars.  The problem with the world of Lovecraftian horror is this.  The mythos is great, but a lot of the books/movies set in it are a swing and a miss.  Which is sad for me as a reader, because I know that this is an author with the same funky interest as me, so I want it to work. I want it to work very much.  It just doesn’t always.  This, unfortunately, falls solidly in the swing and a miss category for me.

The germ of the story is a great idea.  An ostensibly mainstream “good” man following his roots and falling into a dark god worshiping cult. Brilliant.  The execution is weak, however.  The cover of my copy of the book claims that it is a “novel of blinding terror.”  This is just not the case.  In some ways I feel that Chappell just tried too hard.  The entire first chapter is meant to set the scene with extremely heavy-handed gothic language, but it is just painful to read.  The first chapter describes one room of the house.  Excessive energy is spent trying to make even the throw pillows seem malicious.  It is too over-the-top and becomes laughable.  Thankfully, the next chapter abandons the excessive language, but it is still never scary.  It is titillating at a couple of points.  Engaging as well.  But never terrifying.

Part of the problem is that the book fails to build suspense from beginning to end.  It builds up in part one to a singular event, but then immediately crashes back down to a period in part two in which Peter lies around in a depressed funk.  While this might be realistic, it does nothing to build the suspense.  The suspense thus must start all over again.  This may be acceptable in a long work (and even then I’m dubious), but in such a short book it’s just jarring and ruins the suspense.

I also found the ultimate payoff to be a bit disappointing.  While we find out one or two things about Peter’s family, we don’t get enough details to truly experience shock or horror.  Similarly, the ultimate final descent of Peter was a bit disappointing.  He doesn’t engage in any agency or become a committed cultist.  A lot of cult things are done to him, but he doesn’t really have the descent into madness promised.  He is tortured and made into a slave and has the mental and emotional breakdown such experiences could make someone experience, but he himself doesn’t turn into a raving Dagonite, for instance.

That said, there are some things that worked in the book.  As stated previously, the germ of the idea is great.  Peter’s nemesis/mentor, the tenant farmer family’s daughter, is delightfully powerful and sinister.  A couple of scenes were a great mix of titillation and horror, and the final climax was definitely a surprise.

Overall, then, it’s a book that tries to be a terrifying, gothic horror, but instead is a titillating grotesque bit of southern literature.  Fans of the Lovecraftian mythos will appreciate it for this, although the Lovecraftian elements themselves are sparse and a bit disappointing.  Recommended for big fans of grotesque, fantastical horror who don’t mind it leaning a bit more toward the grotesque than the scary side of horror.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

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Book Review: Beyond the Misty Shore by Vicki Hinze (Series, #1)

Red headed woman near a house on the seashore.Summary:
Maggie Wright comes to the cozy Maine bed and breakfast, Seascape, not for a vacation, but to investigate the mysterious death of her cousin, Carolyn.  Carolyn’s artist fiancee, TJ MacGregor, just so happens to be staying at Seascape, but a mysterious force is preventing him from leaving.  Despite the tragedy standing between them, they start to fall for each other.

Review:
This is obviously a romance with a dash of mystery and a touch of ghosts.  Maine is a wonderful setting, particularly for a paranormal romance.  This one just didn’t work for me, although I can clearly see how it will be able to find an audience.

I found the writing, particularly the romance, to ring a bit….old-fashioned and conservative.  The characters all seem to speak in the same speaking style as the elderly woman who manages the inn.  That works for her, and she is definitely my favorite character in the book, but it doesn’t work so well for TJ and Maggie who are both young and from New Orleans.  I’m sure some readers would find the clean, conservative manner in which they talk a bit of fresh air, but to me it was dull and felt like a book my grandma gave me to get started out in romances when I was in middle school.

Similarly, the way the entire town is willing to appease the local pastor when it comes to things like alcohol and condoms kind of enraged me.  For instance, the convenience store will only sell condoms to married couples upon the request of the pastor. I mean WHAT?! That is just not even LEGAL.  But.  As a book reviewer, I can definitely see that a more conservative crowd would appreciate the idea of a town where that sort of understanding could exist.

So, ignoring the fact that this book is far too conservative for me, there is one other issue that bothered me.  I found the mystery of Carolyn’s death entirely confusing.  At first I thought that Maggie came to Seascape to investigate the death because Carolyn died up there, but toward the end of the book, it sounds like she died in New Orleans.  Which was it?  And if she did die in New Orleans, then why did Maggie go to Seascape in the first place?  Also, people think the car crash was mysterious because the painting she had with her was undamaged, but then toward the end of the book they say no the undamaged painting wasn’t found at the car, it’s just that it had disappeared and reappeared.  Or something.  I’m still very confused about everything about Carolyn, which is problematic given that this is the central conflict keeping our romantic couple apart.  The mystery should be mysterious but not illogical.

Overall, this is a romance novel that was not for me, but will appeal to more conservative romance readers.  People looking for an old-timey style romance with a touch of ghosts will appreciate it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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