"House of Fallen Trees" Book Review
Written by Gina Ranalli
2010, 264 pages, Fiction
Released on June 15th, 2010
There is a space inhabited by narratives between mystery novels and gory horror stories. The novels nestled in this gap pack the best of both worlds. Gina Ranalli’s House of Fallen Trees is exactly that: a creepy tale full of dark visions, an eerie atmosphere and a very healthy dose of psychological horror.
The story starts with Karen Lewis, a horror writer receiving a sinister message time and again: "Two men have the carcass." Karen can't help but feel that the sentence has something to do with the mysterious disappearance of her brother Sean. Besides the frightening line about the carcass popping up repeatedly, Karen receives a call from Rory, her brother's boyfriend, and learns she has inherited half of a Bed and Breakfast her brother bought with Rory. After thinking about it for a while, Karen decides to visit the place just to see if she can get a glimpse of what her brother's life was like before he went missing. Instead of finding warm memories, she's thrown into a maelstrom of darkness, old secrets, possession, evil trees and horrific visions. Along with an incredulous Rory and a slightly more helpful friend of his called Saul, Karen will embark on a trip to hell while trapped inside a very special house with a very murky past.
While the above description might make House of Fallen Trees sound like a classic haunted house tale, the novel only resembles anything you might have read before in some very basic elements because the story is truly unique. Ranalli masterfully builds tension at an unhurried pace and the crescendo leads to an explosive end that sticks with the reader after the last page has been turned. Also, the best part of the book is the way the author uses horror. Instead of a bloody onslaught of monsters, what we get is a carefully constructed succession of visions, jumps and screams. Forget the face in the dark or the bump in the night: "House of Fallen Trees" includes bleeding mirrors, a strange feral dog meandering a shadowy forest, disappearing coffins, an invasion of fleas, people in old photographs that turn into deformed beasts, loss of memory, doors that lock by themselves, a man raping himself and a murder of crows with human eyes and the hands of small children for feet.
Ranalli has a knack for the bizarre and her talent is in full swing in House of Fallen Trees. From the slow descent into madness to the anxiety caused by knowing that something you can't touch is out to get you, this book is a good reminder of all the things that make a great haunted house story a pleasure to read. The characters are all multilayered and their interactions have the unmistakable ring of authenticity even while trapped inside a hellish situation in the middle of the woods.
Haunted house stories are rarely as good as this. You should buy it right now.