The Dead Path
Stephen M. Irwin
Every year around this time, with the leaves turning and pumpkins making their way into stores, I find myself craving ghost stories. Stories that make you want to sleep with the lights on and double check the locks on the doors and windows when the slightest sound is heard. Irwin deftly accomplishes both in his debut novel.
Nicholas Close is living his dream life in London. He has a beautiful wife, they’re renovating their new home together, and he has a job he enjoys. When a sudden and tragic accident takes his wife’s life, he can’t get past the devastation, the collapse of their dreams, and the downward spiral of his life. One other problem he’s having that he would do anything to escape — he’s seeing ghosts. Not just simple hauntings, like socks going missing and found in odd places, but what he’s seeing are the last violent moments of people’s lives over and over like a movie he can’t shut off. Everywhere he goes they appear making him wonder if he’s losing his mind.
Nicholas makes the decision to move back to his native Australia with the hope of starting fresh. His hometown doesn’t have much to offer but it was home many years ago and what he’s looking for is a clean slate which his small town can provide. His mother, never a very affectionate person, welcomes him home rather half-heartedly, but he’s fine with the reception not expecting much more than the cup of tea she offers. His sister, a mother and successful business woman, decides to visit him as well and Nicholas finds in her a kindred spirit of sorts. She understands about the ghosts, and reveals a small secret — their long dead father believed in witchcraft and she herself is a follower.
When a child disappears into the woods that have long haunted Nicholas, he starts to see and hear things that he knows can’t be possible. He starts to research the woods and finds a long dead woman still alive and possibly the reason for the strange occurrences, disappearances, and murders around town.
There’s that old saying that writers should write what they know. Well, I sincerely hope Stephen Irwin is not writing what he knows because his life would be terrifying if that were the case. This book starts out with death and racks up the numbers quickly. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish this book but then something happened, and without taking away any of the adrenalin-rush, Irwin brings on the creepy mystery and changes the story from one about child murders to a depraved witch on a hunt for blood. He doesn’t drop the intensity level one bit and you race through the pages wondering what’s going to happen next.
It’s dark, disturbing, and in places disgusting, but does what it’s supposed to do — it scares you. It makes you want to turn on every light in your house and banish house plants for fear they could be communing with a witch in the woods to conspire your ending. What I liked about the evil in this book was that it was subtle in appearance and you have to wait for Nicholas to figure things out, which in some places was a little frustrating but all part of the story. By the end of the book, you stop feeling sorry for Nicholas and want to yell at him to fight.
While I found parts of the book slightly unpalatable, child murders are never an easy subject even when it is clearly fiction, the book delivered on the terror factor. If you’re looking for a book for Halloween, this might be the one to try. It will certainly leave you with the need for extra lighting and a creepy feeling about dark woods.