A deputy’s personal investigation into a reputedly haunted building in Louisiana links a string of unexplained and seemingly unrelated deaths in this suspense sequel.
The most terrifying experience in Landry Drake’s life was when, dared by his older brother, he spent an hour in the Asylum. The 200-year-old structure, residing in the ghost town of Victory, Louisiana, is known as the state’s “most haunted building.” Beginning as a hotel in the 1800s, the edifice became a maximum security prison at the turn of the century and housed violent, mentally unstable inmates. The locals dubbed it the Asylum, which was eventually shut down due to widespread abuse of prisoners by vicious guards. Since then, rumors have claimed that the dead inmates haunt the place. Twelve years after his ordeal, 20-something Landry, now an Iberia Parish deputy sheriff, is still disturbed by the voices he’s certain he heard back then. He researches the Asylum and learns 13 unsolved murders have occurred there in the last three decades. Landry later teams up with Cate Adams, daughter of the building’s current owner, and soon uncovers a connection among the killings as well as other puzzling local deaths. He struggles to unravel the mystery despite the sheriff’s orders to stop spending his night shifts on amateur sleuthing. Meanwhile, two brutal thugs and longtime prison escapees Mack Thorn and Sam Gold are regular squatters at the Asylum. Their lives ultimately intersect with Landry’s and Cate’s, precipitating a savage encounter in a building that’s very likely already inhabited by ghosts.
Notwithstanding its haunted-house scenario, Thompson’s (Callie, 2017, etc.) novel is more mystery than horror. Supernatural elements, for one, are ambiguous: The voices Landry (and others) has heard in the Asylum could easily belong to humans who are very much alive. Moreover, the introduction of Mack and Sam not only provides the story with an unmistakable menace, but also hints at the possibility that the two men are the haunters. The author sets an unnerving tone with straightforward but engrossing writing. The history of the Asylum, for example, is an extended segment that never loiters thanks to meticulous and harrowing details of the guards’ mistreatment of inmates. Similarly, the story’s atmosphere is often ominous, even when outside Asylum walls: “Dense, low-hanging storm clouds rolled in fast. Summer storms popped up in the humid evenings, and a rumble of thunder gave a preview of what to expect.” Landry and Cate’s immediate attraction doesn’t spark much romance but does pair the protagonist with a much-needed ally. Yet it’s the eccentric supporting characters who truly add depth to the narrative. Standouts include Cate’s father, whose purchase of cheap, unwanted properties has netted him 200 parcels in Louisiana, and a spooky, immoral preacher who has no qualms about trespassing. Much of the final act unfolds inside the Asylum, clarifying the mysteries while putting both Landry and Cate in peril. There are also a couple of surprises that are quite effective. These are trailed by an explanation and wrap-up that’s largely unnecessary (Thompson’s plot is coherent throughout) but fortunately not prolonged.
An exceptional story that derives its frights from both supernatural and corporeal aspects.