You get in your car, drive to work, park, and go inside. An ordinary day—except, back at home, someone is chopping your wife to bits, the opening gambit in Brundage’s (A Stranger Like You, 2010, etc.) smart, atmospheric thriller.
Here’s the thing about creepy old farmhouses: they’re full of ghosts, and ax murderers lurk in the tree line. Art history professor George Clare is a rational fellow, but when he moves into the country to teach at a small-town college, he finds his colleagues making odd assumptions: since he knows a thing or two about Swedenborg, then he must be game for a séance. Catherine, his young wife, whose “beauty did not go unnoticed” even out among the yokels, has long since sunk into a quiet depression. They have problems. She doesn’t live long enough to grow to hate the country, though she senses early on that the place they’ve bought from a foreclosed-on local family is fraught with supernatural danger: “Until this house,” she thinks, “she’d never thought seriously of ghosts, at all. Yet, as the days passed, their existence wasn’t even a question anymore—she just knew.” Yup. Question is, who would do her in, leaving a single grim witness, the terrified daughter? There’s no shortage of suspects on the mortal plane, to say nothing of the supernatural. Part procedural, part horror story, part character study, Brundage’s literate yarn is full of telling moments: George is like a “tedious splinter” in Catherine’s mind, while George dismisses her concerns that maybe they shouldn’t be living in a place where horrible things have happened with, “As usual, you’re overreacting.” But more, and better, Brundage carries the arc of her story into the future, where the children of the nightmare, scarred by poverty, worry, meth, Iraq, are bound up in its consequences, the weight of all those ghosts, whether real or imagined, upon them forever.
With a storyline that tightens like a constrictor, this is a book that you won’t want to read alone late at night.