It seems that once an author achieves any type of success in this genre, there are a group of “critics” who are quick to knock them down. The critical attacks cite everything from their lack of literary prowess to the narcissistic love of their own style. Hell, there are people who begrudge authors because they feel that certain authors have already enjoyed enough success, as if we are only allowed a set amount of praise and celebration. When it comes to Bentley Little, this crowd loves to say that Little does not know how to properly close a story. Well, Little’s new haunted house story, cleverly titled THE HAUNTED, is out and as the old internet meme goes “haters gonna hate”.
The Perry family’s new house is perfect-except for the weird behavior of the neighbors, and that odd smell coming from a dark corner in the basement. Pity no one warned the family about the house. Now it’s too late. Because the darkness at the bottom of the basement stairs is rising.
THE HAUNTED is absolutely heartbreaking in its dissection familial relationships. Don’t be mistaken, this is a haunted house tale but it is also a study of the power and beauty of family and sacrifice. The Perry’s have had their fair share of pain in their past but have moved on and established themselves as a “normal” family. Of course, the Perry’s have to endure the struggles that most families face when they have two teenage children, financial uncertainty and disapproving in-laws but they meet these obstacles and work through them. That is why the actual haunting seems so frightening. Little creates rich characters that the reader can relate to and when we see them tormented, it hurts just a little bit more. As evidenced by his book titles, this is what Little does best. He creates characters and worlds that are eerily similar to the places his readers call “home”, then he incorporates chilling elements spawned from the mundane to throw our precious lives into a tailspin.
The story is slightly flawed as certain plotlines are never fully hashed out and often end up going nowhere, making the middle of the novel slightly frustrating. There were elements of the story that were incorporated out of convenience instead of necessity. For example, a local teacher who specializes in local history is brought into the story for no other reason than to create a bridge to flashbacks of the town. His story was never fully resolved and to say that his character was one-dimensional still wouldn’t begin to describe how flat he was. These complaints are trivial but they certainly detracted from the overall experience and are uncommon in Little’s work.
The fact that THE HAUNTED is so frightening makes it easy to forget about minor flaws. Little crafted an ancient evil that had me waking up at night, hearing things creaking about the house. Little uses modern technology like cell phones and computers, mixing in the classic haunting staples to create a truly inventive tale. By having the Perry family receive lewd text messages and faces appearing on computer screens, Little walked a very fine line between silly and scary but I am happy to report that there is nothing lighthearted here. The terror is cranked up at an agonizing pace until the reader is too frightened to keep reading but too engaged to put the book down. It leaves the reader with a special reading experience that when firing on all cylinders, Little does better than anyone in the genre.
Now, it is time to talk about the ending. As I said in the intro, there are a lot of people who love to hate Little’s endings. As you may have guessed, I don’t really share that opinion. For years the same thing has been said about King, yet I’ve never experienced it myself. The initial buzz surrounding THE HAUNTED was more of the same. As usual, I thought Little wrapped the story up beautifully. I am not too much of man to admit that I wept openly as I worked through the final chapters of the story. Little often takes a more human approach to his endings and THE HAUNTED was no different. Despite a book full of supernatural evil, Bentley is able to find powerful ending in the normal, not the supernatural. The personal take on the ending was Little at his most literary as his prose achieved maximum emotional impact.
THE HAUNTED isn’t Little’s best but it is far from his worst. The characters are very strong and the story is a solid haunted house tale that will frighten and titillate exactly where it should. Little’s pacing is fast as ever which makes THE HAUNTED one of the quickest, most entertaining books you’re likely to encounter this year.