Almost suitable for mid-grade except for the whole child-murderer thing –and the steamy scene between the two main characters, The Haunting Season is a classic haunted house story set in Savannah, Georgia. (Soil is orange in Georgia. I remember that from my own visits as well as the grim scene where bones are exhumed.)
Jess sees dead people. Allison sees demons. (Well, she sees evil spirits, but it’s kind of a grey area as to whether they have horns. Hers do like to possess people, though.) Gage can return the recently dead back to life, and Bryan, like in that really cool episode of the Twilight Zone with Billy Mummy, can wish people away into The Cornfield.
A government agency, the EPAC (Experimental Paranormal Activity Coalition), (reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. in its developmental stage,) decides they want to get this band of seers, mediums, and necromancers together and put them in a real-live haunted house, one that has a horrible reputation for “getting to people,” …and see what happens.
The first “victim” of Siler House is Dr. Gregory Brandt, the researcher assigned to oversee the case and chaperone the kids. He falls in love with the house and begins to disappear on a regular basis, retreating to his sanctuary in the basement, but leaving the participants in his experiment free access to his ghost hunting tools, (and of course, a Ouija board.) There is also a head housekeeper, Mrs. Hirsch, who is frequently seen holding an iron pendant while mouthing prayers, yet who soon disappears completely.
We discover that Allison is totally freaked by the whole situation because she has a past with the supernatural; she has been possessed before, and the demons have promised to return to her when they find it convenient and amusing. Any time now, in fact.
The house won’t let them leave because of the influence of the spirits captive within its walls and mirrors, the front gate is locked, and the windows are found to be unbreakable by the investigators.
And the game is afoot, the dice are cast…
The first ghosts the group meets are Gracie and Emma, two little girls murdered by a guy named Riley who resides inside the mirrors of the house. Finally they meet Riley, in a duly frightening scene where he is not in the bedroom, but can be seen sitting on the bed in a reflection. He can also control objects with telekinesis. Things like all the knives in the kitchen.
Jess and Gage have a sexy fling, but not too sexy, (just enough so we can file this book next to all the other Supernatural Romance at the book store,) and the kids are left on their own to live through a night of hell as Riley, Dr. Brandt, what’s left of Mrs. Hirsch, and the ghost girls lead them all on a truly terrifying chase through the bowels of the house.
Much of the story, particularly the ending, was fulfilling in its gripping fear quotient, and it was cool that the author drew on the traditions of certain substances repelling ghosts, and laying their bones to rest as the way to quell un-restful spirits.
The ending was a well thought out and well delivered punch. The resolution was along the lines I expected, given the characters’ unique abilities, but didn’t follow the obvious path.
Unfortunately, just as much of the narrative was what I can only describe as unpolished. I don’t recall ever learning Jess’ last name, for instance. The characterization did not go very deep. I think Mrs. Hirsch was supposed to have an Irish brogue, but I’m not sure. At one point we learn that Jess is actually supposed to be the star of the experiment, Riley’s chosen one, but that never really plays out.
Of course, the story belongs to a genre that has been thoroughly introduced already. The killer, the group of teens… the only difference is that this gang has powers of their own. (Though I can only imagine how cool this would have been if they’d had a Great Dane. This group of paranormal investigators definitely has potential for a sequel.)
My one real criticism is that SPOILER
Aside from my nitpicking, this independently published book is a great story. Thinking about Riley made me want to cover up the mirror in my bathroom, and the action of the final scene was worthy of any zombie apocalypse. It had bodies buried in the woods, flesh-eating, demonic possession, the living-dead, and manages to squeeze in a little hanky-panky. It would make a thrillingly successful motion-picture.
The book is classified as “New Adult.” This is the first time I’ve heard that term; apparently either publishing companies believe that their audience are too embarrassed to admit that they like kids’ stuff, or are rightfully embarrassed about the dumbification of literature, but it is simply a way to market Young Adult novels to grown-ups who have finally realized that genre fiction doesn’t offer the same imagination that books written for children and teenagers do. Please help us all make the kids section of B&N an adult-friendly zone!