In Lunden’s horror debut, a rash of strange events in a small town surrounds a gingerbread house and the creepy old woman residing there.
The accident that Bulwark sheriff Clay Finnes is investigating seems fairly straightforward: a car stuck in the middle of a pond. But the vehicle’s elderly passengers claim that a witch took their children and is holding them hostage in the Bavmorda Gingerbread House on Linden Lane. Clay has never heard of that street, but dispatcher Dolly Summars knows where it is—and she implores the sheriff to forget all about it. He finds the house and its occupant, an old woman with black eyes and tangled hair, but no captives. (Later, people in town tell him that the house he visited had burned down years ago.) There have been other strange incidents in Bulwark, though, including numerous wolf sightings, and things only escalate with the discovery of a mutilated body. Clay also learns of a break-in at his wife Jenna’s place on Timber Lane. Their marriage had fallen apart a year before, after the abduction of their daughter, Claire; but now, someone has taken some of Claire’s things, and Jenna thinks that the girl could still be alive. Clay is sure that there’s something evil out there stealing children, and he’s committed to saving his missing daughter. Although Lunden’s fairy-tale-infused horror outing is relatively short, it’s rich in melodrama. Clay’s tireless love for Jenna, for example, is threatened by Bulwark Advance reporter Dayna Dalton—whose unrequited affection for the sheriff aided in the couple’s separation—and nurse Jenna’s muscled co-worker, Dr. Peter Kent. There are conventionally spooky things happening at Linden Lane: a relentless wind, a screeching gate. But other details are inspired, such as the Georgia clay that coats everything in crimson, akin to the surface of Mars—or, simply, blood. Much of the book thrives on suspense, with the sheriff hearing distant howls and witnessing the aftermath of violence. The final act is more overtly exciting, although a bit predictable, and Lunden gives readers a choice between two endings.
Occasionally formulaic but jam-packed with elements that will give readers the heebie-jeebies.