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Haunted, by Tamara Thorne
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Published: 2001
Review Posted: 5/9/2005
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10

Haunted, by Tamara Thorne

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

Horror writer David Masters and his sixteen-year-old daughter Amber are moving into Baudy House just outside Red Cay, California. Baudy House, the site of two separate massacres, has a reputation as one of the most haunted houses in the world. David knows all about the house, it's why he wants it; he has found that the books he's written while putting himself into terrifying situations are the ones that hit the bestseller lists. His next book, Mephisto Palace, is set in a fictional version of Baudy House, so he figures what better place to write it. Besides, he and Amber are pretty well-grounded and not very susceptible to ghosts.

Baudy House, or Body House as it's more commonly known, was once owned by Lizzie Baudy who used the place as a brothel. She was very classy about it, treated her girls well and served some of the most influential names in Red Cay, but she was, nevertheless, a madam. Earlier, in the late 1800s/early 1900s, Lizzie and her daughter Christabel had been stranded and virtually held prisoner on an island where Voodoo was a part of life. They were later rescued by a Navy Commodore and returned home to Red Cay where Lizzie opened her brothel and Christabel put to use the art she'd learned on the island.

Hang on, it gets worse.

Christabel, angry that her mother won't let her join the business, puts her skills to work making China dolls of the employees and townsfolk. Using one of her dolls, Christabel cripples her mother and tears the head off Lizzie's betrothed. Then, in 1915, she kills everyone in the house and sends their souls into the dolls to use them as her slaves when she gains eternal life from her goddess Erzuli. Rumors abounded about the house, the most mysterious being the location of these supposed dolls as well as the bodies that were never recovered but could be smelled rotting inside the house.

Are we clear so far? Trapped on the island, Voodoo, rescued, brothel, dolls, murder. Time passes.

By the time David and Amber move in, the house's reputation precedes it and David is happy as anything to learn the secrets of the house. With the help of local boy Eric Swenson who happens to be psychic and can feel the ghosts and their intentions, David does just that. While he investigates the house and writes his novel, he's also got Theo Pelinor--realtor, seductress, and member of the local new age church, The Beings of Light--to deal with. Plus there's Minnie Willard, the only cleaning woman brave enough to take a job in Baudy House, who's one true love is spreading everyone's dirty laundry to anyone who'll listen.

I've often said ghost stories are the only truly scary stories out there. Serial killers don't bother me, vampires and werewolves don't either. But you give me a good ghost story and I read it at night or early in the morning while it's still dark out, and I'll get good and plenty freaked out. That didn't happen with Haunted. My hopes were high, the cover blurb calls it "a worthy successor to The Shining and Ghost Story" (Nancy Holder), and both those books that did their jobs in freaking me out. But there wasn't one scene, not one passage, in Haunted that made even the slightest chill run up my spine. Not a one. Nothing.

I did enjoy the book, I think Tamara Thorne's got a pretty easy to read style, it just wasn't scary. I got to know and like David and Amber, and the house sounds like a hell of a place (David's biggest complaint is that, while Amber's room is safe and protected by Lizzie's ghost, his own room is haunted by Christabel who seduces him almost nightly . . . what's the problem?). But I just never felt that sense of menace from any of the ghosts. And I know why.

It was the dolls. I'm sorry, but I just can't find myself worried for my own safety knowing there's a collection of China dolls that contain the souls of Christabel's victims that are supposed to serve her in the afterlife. I just can't do it. And then the Voodoo and Christabel being angry her mother won't let her be a prostitute and the Erzuli goddess . . . I'm left with a big sense of "rrriiiiiigggghhhhttttt."

And is there any chance at all we'll see a ghost story in which there's NOT someone who just HAPPENS, out of the blue, to be psychic? At first, Eric is described as being a little slow, but when David meets him he learns the real problem is that Eric's a psychic and he sees ghosts. Well, that worked out pretty well for him, then, didn't it? What a fortunate coincidence.

And while we're on the subject of clichés, let's talk about exposition. David finds a trunk that contains some of the dolls and tied to one of them is an envelope. Inside, David finds a letter written by the man who rescued Lizzie when she was trapped on the island all those years earlier, Maxwell Patton, executor of Lizzie's estate after her death. In the letter, Commodore Patton explains Christabel's history, and the whole thing with the dolls, as well as the events on the night everyone in the house was murdered in 1915. Wow, what luck.

I know explaining the history of a haunted house years after the events isn't the easiest thing in the world to do so that the reader knows what's going on, but was this the best she could come up with? And if it's going to be in a letter, make it read like a letter written by a retired Navy Commodore, don't make it read like pretty much everything else in the book, at least make it as realistic as you can.

I believe Haunted was Thorne's first novel and in that we do have to forgive a few things. Like I said, the writing itself is solid, she kept me going through 478 pages, and I got to like the characters. But the story just wasn't as strong as I'd hoped for. It wasn't scary, it was barely believable, and sometimes it got downright silly and predictable. The climax was a tense situation that seemed like a tough one to get out of. As I read it, I thought, "This is how they'd do it in a movie, they'd have . . ." and I'll be damned if that's not exactly what happened, down to the last move.

Haunted does a good job of balancing the good with the bad, decent writing with a less than original plot. It's not a book I'd ever recommend as a top ten pick, but for something to while away your time, it serves pretty well, and it's all good clean fun.
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Comments on Haunted, by Tamara Thorne
Posted by Jeff Edwards on 5/11/2005
Thanks for the review! I'm reading Tamara Thorne's "Thunder Road" right now, and my reaction to it is similar to your reaction to "Haunted." Thorne seems to be a solid storyteller (this is the first Thorne book I've read) but the novel falls into that "guilty pleasure" category.