A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: If you are a fan of scary ghost stories, you should not miss this one.
This review contains what could be considered spoilers
“Doctor,” he said before he said anything else, “I am haunted. By ghosts.”
His parents are brutally murdered in a Manson-like intrusion and Calvin narrowly escapes the same fate. He spends time in an expensive private mental hospital, but when he returns home, he senses the presence of evil in the shadowy old mansion. Someone seems to follow him along the halls, and whispers just beyond his hearing. Gradually the terror escalates. A hand shakes him awake at night, just as it did on that fatal night. Cringing in his bed, he hears his father being murdered all over again, and then his mother. But is the mansion haunted—or is it Calvin?
The story opens the day twenty-five-year-old Calvin is leaving a private mental facility where he has stayed voluntarily for three years following the horrific murders of his parents in a home invasion, an event from which he was the only survivor. He is returning to the same house where it all occurred, even though his brother, Bobbie, thinks it’s a bad idea; Calvin is still fragile, and he would be mostly alone in the huge, creepy house as Bobbie lives with his lover not too far away in New York City, and the housekeeper can’t do overnights. Calvin feels it’s necessary, though, to face what happened. He questions his decision, however, when he begins to see and hear things that shake him to the core and make him believe the house is haunted by his dead parents. When other people don’t notice what he experiences, he starts to wonder if maybe he is truly mentally unhinged, suffering lasting effects from the events of that night. As even further bad things happen, he wonders if he will ever find peace, or will it all be his undoing?
Alfred Hitchcock said something along line lines of “there is nothing more frightening than an unopened door,” and that is certainly true here. Victor Banis’s newest title, Dead of Night, is a deliciously creepy, dark, disturbing tale and not for the faint of heart. While I may not claim this as my favorite book by this prolific author, it may be the one of best that I’ve read from him. It’s wonderful and tragic, but scary. It’s very well-written, but scary. Calvin is a fascinating, repressed, troubled character, and it’s scary. Did I mention it’s scary? 🙂 I admit that my threshold for this kind of stuff is pretty low, so it is possible other readers won’t find it as frightening as I did, but it scared the crap out of me. There were times when my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest at the tension the author created, and if I had to experience what Calvin did, I would have perished from fright. Dead of Night is not something I would normally pick up as I don’t like paranormals as a whole and scary stories in particular (damn, you Wave!), but I agreed to do it and I think I’m glad I did. 🙂 I made the mistake of starting this one evening and I found that I didn’t want to turn out the light when it was time to turn in — a time much later than normal as I was completely absorbed in the story.
You need to be aware of several things before picking this one up:
First, it is not a m/m romance in any possible meaning. There is nothing romantic about it, period, and there is barely anything m/m about it. Though his brother, Bobbie, is gay, the main character, Calvin, is what I would consider asexual (probably homosexual if he had been permitted to achieve his potential, but more on Calvin later). There is no smexxin, though a few bare, erect members are present in a few scenes.
Second, some warnings: it is fairly gruesome in parts, especially with the description of Calvin’s father’s murder, and there is a scene of what could have ended in rape if it had been permitted to play out. Additionally, there is the (off-screen) death of an animal. If any of those things bother you, this may not be the story for you.
That said, it is very well- and tightly-written tale told mostly from Calvin’s third-person point of view with themes of slavery, freedom and escape amidst the terror. Though a contemporary, the book has an old-time feel to it, like it is set in a different era. Atmospherically it feels old; much of it takes place in a huge, old, often dark house seemingly lacking many modern-day electronics (though there is a telephone, I don’t remember seeing a television, computer or even radio). Additionally, Calvin speaks quite properly with no slang and has old-fashioned attitudes, which also lends to the antique feeling.
I found Calvin to be a tortured, fascinating and complex character, and I mourned the loss of what this young man could have been had if he had been raised elsewhere. Though he’s very intelligent, he seems detached from many of his emotions and often apathetic. He is also very guarded of showing complete honesty to anyone for fear of what would happen if they knew the truth. At twenty-five, he is a virgin and sexually (experience-wise) immature; he has only the vaguest of ideas of what goes on between two people. His thoughts on the subject of sex, when it is brought up, and his reaction to what the intruders had in store for him are almost as disturbing as the tale as a whole. Due to his strict, overbearing and tyrannical father, he has been extremely sheltered and as a result, very innocent and naïve. This is not just about smexxin, either; he has barely ventured from the house, and only in the presence of his father. He was raised in isolation of almost anyone outside of the immediate family and house staff, and is relatively uncomfortable around people. Although it seems he attended school at some point, his recent learning has come from books. He does not drive. He reminded me of a highly intelligent, but serious child — with perhaps basic knowledge of things, but no first-hand experience to back it up — and he is very self-aware in this respect. He dreams of times where it will be different, but he knows it never will.
He knew that he was different from other people. He had lived all his life in this wretched isolation, and though he had dreamed of what it would be like to have friends, as other people did, he knew that the gap between those dreams and their fulfillment was unbridgeable. He would never know what others knew, about friendship, about love, about ordinary human relations.
There are a good number of secondary cast members — doctors, house staff, his Aunt Willa — but by far the one with that largest role is flawed brother Bobbie, who escaped their father, but the cost of that freedom was Calvin’s enslavement. I loved how he was with Calvin, even though they are very much opposites. And I cannot forget Calvin’s dead parents, who, even though not onscreen, were very much present.
If you are a fan of scary ghost stories and are in the mood for a good one, you should not miss Dead of Night.