Eald Talu House

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By R.J. Halbert

IR Rating:
R.J. Halbert's CARETAKER is a heady read once the pace starts to pick up, making for a promising start to this supernatural thriller series.
A Boston family moves into a rural house with a mysterious past.

In CARETAKER, Ian and Lyana Keane are a Bostonian couple with two teenaged children who move into the stereotypical grand old New England house in the country, which has an unusual characteristic: it comes complete with a reclusive caretaker, Marshall, who lives in a corner of the plot. Author R.J. Halbert (a pseudonym for married couple Rhonda and Jason) shows an impressive grasp of atmosphere and tension. As the family settles in, Ian and Lyana start to experience uncomfortable flashbacks to unhappier times in their lives. Before long, strange things are happening to their children: they have the same dream, of a life in an ancient city; and disaster soon strikes from an unexpected source.

Notwithstanding the fact that this New England supernaturalism is familiar territory, CARETAKER has a lot going for it. Traces of Stephen King-esque suspense, as well as a little Hitchcockian horror, are discernible in the slow-burn treatment; and the twist is a decent one. The only real issue—a substantial one at that—is with pacing. At a shade over 200 pages, the work is fairly short; yet well over a third of the novel has gone by before the plot really begins to cohere. While the substantial character-building that goes on in these opening chapters does tell us a great deal about Ian and Lyana (their childhoods spent in abusive circumstances; the familiar story of a problematic work-life balance almost destroying the couple’s marriage), it seems extravagant to expend so much effort on backstory in such a short work.

In a sense, the real protagonist of the book is Farr Hill itself: the house’s puzzling geometries, bottomless mirror, and chimerical aspect are just as worthy of exposition as the main characters. CARETAKER is meant as the first volume in a series, The Goodpasture Chronicles, so it may be that subsequent installments take a less ponderous approach. But for those who like slow-burning thrillers, there is a great deal here of interest.

R.J. Halbert’s CARETAKER is a heady read once the pace starts to pick up, making for a promising start to this supernatural thriller series.

~Craig Jones for IndieReader

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