When David Caine, a celebrated skeptic of the supernatural, is invited by an old friend to spend a month in “the most haunted house in Virginia,” he believes the case will be like any other. But the Alexander House is different. Built by a 1700s land baron to contain the madness and depravity of his eldest son, the house is plagued by shadows of the past and the lingering taint of bloodshed. David is haunted, as well. For twenty-two years ago, he turned away the woman he loved, and she took her life in sorrow. And David suspects she’s followed him to the Alexander House.
- Title: The Siren and the Specter
- Series: Fiction Without Frontiers
- Author: Jonathan Janz
- Publisher: Flame Tree Press
- ISBN: 1787580075
- Publication Date: September 6, 2018
- Content Warnings: suicide, child abuse, sexual abuse, intense sexual imagery
I’d like to thank Flame Tree Press for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
As you might guess from the name of this blog, the haunted house is my favorite type of horror story. I can’t get enough of creaking floorboards, cold spots, and doors that open and close by themselves. I love those houses of evil, where terror lurks behind every door and the people foolish enough to enter are trapped inside with forces beyond their comprehension. In The Siren and the Specter, Jonathan Janz takes this trope and expands it. We’re not just dealing with a haunted house here; we’re dealing with a haunted peninsula. And I loved every creepy, brilliant minute of it.
David Caine is a writer known for his skepticism of the supernatural. He accepts an old friend’s invitation to spend a month in Alexander House, the most haunted house in Virginia, so that he can write a book debunking the myths surrounding the property. David shows up with sophisticated ghost-hunting equipment, a highly distrustful nature, and enough personal baggage to fill a cargo plane. Despite his skepticism, he feels something as soon as he enters Alexander House, and he struggles to explain away the creepy phenomena he keeps experiencing on the second floor of the house. His encounters with the locals, some of which will require multiple brain-bleachings to remove their stain from my memory, suggest that Alexander House may not be the only danger David is facing.
Janz handles David’s skepticism deftly. In stories like this — where a skeptic encounters the supernatural and must re-examine their belief system — it can be difficult, bordering on impossible, to maintain the suspense and doubt in the audience’s minds regarding what exactly is going on AND to keep your skeptic character likeable enough to keep readers engaged. Janz pulls off the juggling act flawlessly. I was constantly guessing at the characters’ motives and allegiances. Even as I was terrified by the descriptions of the haunting, I was doubting right along with David at times whether it truly was a haunting. I never got frustrated with David for not believing, even when his skepticism seemed ridiculous in the face of the terrors he was facing, which is a real testament to Janz’s skill. His main character isn’t the most sympathetic, but with Janz’s sharp command of plot and characterization, he keeps the reader in the palm of his hand throughout the entire book.
As the title tells us, there’s more than one supernatural entity at play in this story, but the narrative never feels forced, disjointed, or overly full. There’s a common thematic thread between all of the supernatural goings-on: jealousy, desire, betrayal, and — above all — the evil that men do. Janz weaves these complex legends, motivations, and backstories into a cohesive, compelling narrative that won’t let you put the book down. (Especially if it’s 2 A.M. and you’re too scared to reach out past the edge of your bed to turn off the light. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.)
The Siren and the Specter is part of the premiere lineup from Flame Tree Press, a new imprint shepherded by legendary horror editor Don D’Auria. I’m thrilled to see what their other releases have in store for us, because this first read was incredible. With evocative prose and masterful storytelling, Jonathan Janz weaves drama, horror, and tragedy into a brilliant and terrifying modern ghost story.
The Siren and the Specter is a stellar entry in the haunted house subgenre. I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.
NOTE: Creepy Reads will be a regular Wednesday feature, so be sure to check back next week. I’ll be reviewing another Flame Tree Press title, so you know it’s going to be good!