SWEET HEART by Peter James


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A fitfully chilling variation on James's old-fashioned damsel-in-demonic-distress theme (Dreamer, 1990; Possession, 1988) finds Charley Witney and her lawyer-husband moving into a country house--which turns out to be haunted by a most malevolent ghost. Looking to rekindle their marriage--which has been cooling, thanks to their inability to conceive a child--Charley and Tom buy Elmwood Mill, a dilapidated 15th-century mill house in Sussex. Before long, odd events (much like those in James's earlier novels) begin: a befuddled elderly ghost walks a nearby hill; cold spots plague the house; the couple's electric bill soars from a mysterious drainage. And what's worse, there occult disturbances are echoed in mundane life as Tom takes up with Charley's former clothing-shop colleague (a liaison as sexually graphic as the story's ensuing violence is gory, marking a striking departure from James's demure first two novels). All these troubles, though, take a backseat to the revelations that unfold as Charley, visiting London, undergoes past-life hypnosis therapy to uncover a possible psychological cause for her infertility. Entranced into the same recent past life time and again, she relives a sexual encounter in a car and her burial of a locket. Back at Elmwood Mill, she finds herself sleepwalking, digging up the locket, and then, horrifyingly, trying to hang herself while asleep. A final hypnotic session, sufficiently terrifying to strike the hypnotist dead, uncovers the secret behind Charley's woes--one stemming from the homicidal sins of her mother, and powerful enough to free, in an exciting climactic stalk-and-slash, the vengeful spirit behind all this mayhem. Well written, with nice scares and very rich characters, but, here, James is basically repeating himself (and fellow Jameses Henry and M.R.), despite the sex-gore overlay. The formula is wearing a bit thin.

Pub Date: Dec. 18th, 1991
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's