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A battered woman hunts for her lost brother in a fog-shrouded village of the damned.

In an opening scene with few rivals for knuckle-duster impact, narrator Ruth Gemmill finds herself in an abandoned railway station in rural England. She's there with recent boyfriend Matt, with whom she’s had a violently abusive relationship (details are leavened throughout the text). Matt has brought her to this god-forsaken place to describe a harrowing story of sexual abuse from his own childhood. Switching gears abruptly, Ruth lets us know her real reason for talking to us: she's looking for her brother, Alex, who left London some time before to go teach in the small northern town of Greenwall. But Alex has now gone missing, and Ruth—full of big-sister protectiveness—drives up to Greenwall to investigate. What she finds is pure Stephen King. There's the odd and menacing gray figure she sees here and there; there are also the people in Alex's apartment building who are too frightened to talk to her. Not to mention the almost pathological and violent suspicion she's held in by most of the people there. At first she thinks that gay Alex might have gotten into trouble because of his sexuality, but the creepy, imprisoned nature of the town starts to convince her that something far more evil is going on. While there are horror-fiction clichés at just about every turn here—including the But There Was A Dead Body There Just a Minute Ago—Morris at least knows how to pick ’em. Through generous use of flashbacks, she creates a likable, if absent, character in Alex and an equally detestable villain in Matt. And even though the remote town with a sinister secret setting is old-hat, Morris puts Ruth through enough convincingly surreal mental trauma to keep things involving.

Not sufficiently horrific to be horror and too midnight-movie-ish to qualify as a psychological suspense, but, still, a satisfyingly mysterious gothic that leaves enough strings dangling spookily in the wind.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-33608-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2002