Spector (To Bury the Dead, 2000, etc.) premises his latest horror novel on the moral dilemma of souls trapped in a Virginia mansion.
Seven rebellious kids at Stillson High call themselves the Underground to signal their disdain for the school’s “tidal pool of fractious cliques.” Come graduation, they sneak into historic Custis Manor for a beer bust. Among them: Justin Van Slyke, his beloved Mia Cheever, and Josh Custis, who has ties to the fabled old mansion. Fellow member Simon Baxter, feeling left out of the party, spikes their wine with ten tabs of LSD, and soon all are on a bad trip. Mia dies, apparently having fallen through a big mirror into another world. Justin tries to save her by going through the mirror, but it closes, severing his hand. Twenty years later, the remaining five regroup at Stillson Beach for news about their missing friends. Justin’s hand turns up at Custis Manor, and Chief Medical Examiner Elizabeth Bergen finds that it’s not only alive but has a pulse (the author’s best device). Flashback three centuries to Silas Custis, who buys a huge tract of prime Virginia land and imports slaves to work his plantation. One slave, Papa Josephus, survives endless whippings with no sign of pain; it turns out he’s the “Great Night, practitioner of a particularly vile and mysterious amalgam of African and Caribbean witchcraft.” So Silas joins Papa Josephus as an apprentice sorcerer and learns all sorts of ghastly stuff before he feels strong enough to boil up his mentor in the big stockpot for spells and himself become the Great Night. Time comes when Silas, age 167 but looking 60, chooses to murder his 800 slaves. Although he burns and boils them, their souls become locked up in the attic of Custis Manor. Now the five Undergrounders return to the manor and find themselves wandering through the very Underworld itself. Onward to a cosmic explosion, gigantic storm and fireworks.
Grisly fun for the fans.