A historical thriller from debut author Lynch about a vicious murder that serves as the catalyst for a decadeslong family curse.
In the early 19th century on islands in the Chesapeake Bay, Jacob Whalen works hard to make a living while trying to dissociate himself from the name tainted by his father, a thieving murderous picaroon (pirate). But Jacob’s actions on a stormy night may have their own repercussions for his descendants. In the 20th century, young Tig grows up in a family with ties to the Whalens; the connection, among others, isn’t exactly clear. It seems that a family curse has been behind murders, fatal accidents and a festering evil. Though fiction, Lynch’s book is partly based on historical events; as such, the first six chapters, which detail Jacob’s life away from his marauding father, sometimes read like a history lesson more than a narrative—though it ends with a wallop when a storm creates the perfect mood for a massacre. Tig comes across as the story’s focus, but he often shares the spotlight, since most chapters, each with its own title, are their own stories: “Chicken Feed,” for example, is the story of Nick, Tig’s father, working away from his family, with Tig relegated to a supporting role. Still, Tig is a strong, laudable character whom readers see mature from a 12-year-old boy into a grandfather. Perhaps the author’s finest creation is the delicate layer of menace that spreads across the novel. Certain inanimate objects, like a simple statue, are so horrifying that the mere sight of them instills fear. Sherman, another man affected by the curse, has a son—the “boy people talked about”—who dominates the book’s most disturbing moments. In Sherman’s chapter, “The Card Game,” he’s unmistakably frightened by the boy, who imitates animal sounds in lieu of speaking; Sherman even refuses to call him by name. The son’s creepily sudden full-grown appearance in front of Sherman is the book’s most unnerving image. Fortunately, Lynch doesn’t let the loosely connected chapter-stories get out of hand, and she ends it all with a fitting conclusion.
More a collection of stories than a novel, but admirable characters and an ample supply of spine-tingling moments leave an indelible impression.