Book name: The Haunted
Author: Bentley Little
Publisher: Penguin Books
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Publication Date: 2012
Star Rating: 4/5
A friend recommended horror writer Bentley Little to me. In fact, he was so delighted when he came across one of Little’s books in our local secondhand bookshop that I was drawn into reading The Haunted.
Claire, Julian and their two surviving children are keen to put the trauma of losing their eldest son, Miles, behind them. They buy a nondescript house in Jardine.
This is the town in New Mexico where Claire grew up. Notwithstanding Julian’s tense relationship with Claire’s father, moving home seems like a good idea at the time.
The family’s house lacks character, and Julian has a number of runs in with local teenagers. This encourages them to move, and they buy an older home with plenty of history in downtown Jardine.
It isn’t long before mysterious sounds and moving objects make the family wonder whether their new home has a little too much character to be safe for Megan and James to grow up in.
The Haunted is told from the perspective of all four family members. This gave it a fresher feel than some ghost stories, where the children are too young to sustain telling the tale.
Bentley Little’s writing style used a gentle technique of building up character through describing everyday actions.
I learnt a lot about Julian, for example, through his habit of watching CNN and reading the newspaper daily and his lack of help with the housework.
Even something as simple as how he ate dinner revealed something about his personality.
Claire is frequently shown at her law office and interacting with other local business owners. The kids Megan and James are extensively established as characters via their use of technology, playing with their friends and in how they arrange their personal spaces.
All of this was very mundane, and provided quite a slow pace to the first half of The Haunted. However, Bentley Little’s approach was extremely effective as a writing style. This was largely because of how naturally the development of character came across.
Much of The Haunted involved this sort of minutiae, and I almost didn’t realise how much I’d come to understand about each of the four main characters until the major action got under way in the second half.
I particularly enjoyed the use of neighbourhood history to create atmosphere in The Haunted. Going back hundreds of years to when settlers arrived and massacred the inhabitants, the location had been subject to violent murders until the very ground itself became tainted by death.
The background included religious murders by a Catholic priest, which were particularly gruesome. They continued into the present day, via the early twentieth-century when the sheriff is called to a scene where a mother has hanged her two children.
The violence over the years never let up, corrupting the whole neighbourhood in the process. It still centred on the family’s home, leaving them isolated from their neighbours.
Bentley Little links the history to the present day lives of the family very naturally through one of Claire’s clients, a history teacher unfairly dismissed for teaching this inconvenient narrative to his pupils.
That was very thought-provoking, at a time when syllabus content is often very tightly controlled.
The Haunted was a slow starter, but the pace gathered quickly in the second half. First the history and then the climax of the danger to the family meant that there was plenty of bloodthirsty action.
The first half was more about getting to know the family, to care about what happened to them, and to see for ourselves what it was like to live in the house before the real danger emerged.
I enjoyed both the story of The Haunted and the slightly unusual approach to character building very much indeed.
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