From the author of the distinctive, controlled, shapely Mystery Walk (1983): a disappointing Southern-gothic/Satanic mess--meandering its way through just about every clichÃ‰ in both those genres. The Ushers of North Carolina, arms-manufacturers since the 19th century, are supposedly descendants of the doomed clan immortalized by Edgar Allan Poe; most family members suffer from ""Usher's Malady,"" a noise-sensitive syndrome that sends them into head-splitting fits. And now the current patriarch, Walen Usher, is dying horribly of advanced U.M., with his three offspring gathering at the estate for the last days: slimy Boone, the greedy/ mama's--boy J.R. of the family, married to (but impotent with) boozy, sluttish Puddin'; sister Katt--super-model, fashion entrepreneur, drug addict, would-be Usher Armaments tycoon; and horror-writer hero Rix, long-estranged from the family and scarred by his wife's mysterious suicide. While waiting for Walen to die, then, Rix starts burrowing into Usher history, with help from upright family retainer Edwin Bodane (who is training his creepy, animal-slaying grand-nephew Logan to take over as estate manager). Unsurprisingly, the Usher-clan secrets seem to include insanity, murder, and the unexplained death of assorted siblings. Could Rix's enigmatic Uncle Simms, for instance, have been killed by a monster-panther? And is this Satanic creature still prowling around the estate? And do the grisly family legacies have something to do with the frequent disappearance of local mountain-children? And what about the legendary Pumpkin Man who haunts the area--not to mention a haunted lodge and a hillbilly family with a history of telepathic powers? Well, Rix looks into all these over-familiar matters, assisted by sharp-tongued beauty Cass Dunstan--whose old newsman-father is writing an exposÃ‰ on the Usher family. Meanwhile, that panther starts eliminating Rix's siblings, suggesting that he is destined to inherit the dubious privilege of family leadership. (""When it had consumed its fill, the monster turned away. . . its belly distended with what had been Boone Usher. . . ."") And finally Rix and Cass wind up in a battle-of-wills showdown with the forces of evil--learning the even awfuller Usher family secret and the identity of Satan's representative on the estate. Hectic, overlong, and wearisomely murky occult/gothic fare--with a whiny hero and only a little of the classy restraint of Mystery Walk.