A debut paranormal thriller set in the 1970s, about a strange presence in an apartment building in an isolated New England coastal town.
Egan Drummond, one of the main characters in Knauf’s atmospheric fiction, has recently taken a job at a boarding school in the distant, coastal town of Bowford, Maine. He lives in a long, rambling apartment building in a renovated 18th-century ropewalk, where he hopes to use his spare time to work on a long, demanding book that’s been preoccupying him for years. His efforts to sink into solitary isolation are complicated, however, by the building’s only other tenants: his fellow teacher, Margaret Gillespie; and her young daughter, Sonya. But Margaret tells Egan that there’s another tenant in the building—someone who mysteriously walks the halls at night. In very little time, he joins Margaret’s informal quest to unravel the riddle of the unknown person—or thing—stalking the ropewalk. Knauf takes these simple plot ingredients, mixes them with ample amounts of Northeastern Native American lore from Egan’s germinating book, and crafts a story that’s very often tense and involving. His characters are largely believable, although Egan’s first-person perspective frequently leans toward the type of purple prose of Gothic fiction: “Perhaps on some level I sensed it would be a reassurance, or even a sort of passive boast, that I had so far escaped the yawning death in whose gullet the thundering echo of the water was louder than ever.” Knauf renders the steadily developing relationship between Egan and Margaret much more subtly and energetically than he does the Dean Koontz-style quasi-supernatural elements. As a result, readers may find themselves wishing that this were a more straightforward relationship novel, although the paranormal aspects gain in strength and eloquence as the novel progresses. The author also delivers necessary exposition regarding Native American mythology and history so smoothly that readers that may not even realize how much they’re learning along the way.
A skillful and very promising debut novel in the Peter Straub/Stephen King mode.