Book Review - House of Reckoning by John Saul
Generally speaking, I like John Saul's work. Supernatural thrillers tend to work for me, and I can easily get wrapped up in one. But his latest, House of Reckoning, left me wanting. The plot had potential, and I kept turning pages, but I never felt like I got the answers as to *why* all of this was taking place. By the end, I felt as if I had been cheated a bit or I got a version of the book that left out a few important chapters.
Sarah Crane is the main character, a teenager trying to grow up in a small town without a mother. Her father is also struggling with the death of his wife, and unfortunately commits a crime during a drinking binge that lands him in jail. Sarah ends up in foster care, under the roof of a dysfunctional family who only wants her for the monthly check (and her servitude). Her life is pretty miserable, with the only bright spot being her art class and a teacher there she really likes. But the whole town has branded the teacher a witch, and Sarah is forbidden by her foster family from having anything to do with her. Of course, that's pretty much a guarantee of disobedience when it comes to a teenager. Complicating her life a bit more is her new friend, Nick Dunnigan, who also has his own demons to deal with. He was committed to a mental institution for a time due to voices in his head, and his classmates torment him incessantly. When Sarah and Nick get together, the voices and her unique art ability take on a supernatural quality that points back to an old house where Bettina Phillips, Sarah's art teacher, lives. Tensions escalate in the town to the point where Nick and Sarah are accused of killing the local cop's son, and the only safe place they can go to Bettina's place. But the ghosts that haunt her house could either protect or harm them, and they have no way to tell what's going on and how it will all turn out.
So... the storyline wasn't bad. I felt for Sarah and how she was unable to turn to anyone for some help in her situation. Nick was pretty good also, as he struggled with the voices he couldn't control, even through medication. But many of the other characters were pretty shallow and stereotypical. Sarah's foster mother is the deeply religious woman who hates what Sarah represents. The foster father is a sloth who backs up the wife, expects Sarah to wait on him hand and foot, and is only in it for the monthly check. The classmates are all cliquish and bullying. Fine, I could overlook that if the story was good. But that's where I *really* had issues. Bettina's house, Shutters, has a history as a prison and mental hospital. The ghosts are related to that period of time. But as the ghosts claim each victim, it's never explained *why* these victims were chosen and why the prior occupants were targeting them. Granted, they may have been deserving of their punishment, but the linkage between the evil they did in this world and the punishment they received after passing through to the other side was a mystery to me. I wondered if I had glossed over some chapter that linked the current town residents to ancestors who worked, ran, or resided in the old institution. If it was there, I missed it.
Normally I complain that a popular author tends to pad their page count so that the book looks "epic". In the case of House of Reckoning, Saul's 300 pages could have used about 50 to 100 more pages to fill in some of the blanks and characters. For mind candy, it's not a bad read. But if you end up thinking about the story too hard (especially at the end), you'll likely wonder if you should have spent the time reading something else.
Obtained From: Library