Cannonball Read IV: Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman
I love horror movies and ghost stories. When I read about Those Across the River, I was excited that I had found a book that sounded truly creepy. Unfortunately, the only thing that was frightening was how badly written it was.
Buehlman’s novel is set in post-WWI Georgia, to where the narrator Frank, a vet dealing with PTS syndrome, moves with his lover to reclaim a house left to him by a deceased aunt. The aunt urges him in a letter to sell the house, because moving to the town would cause Frank nothing but trouble. There’s something terrible in the town, but in true scary story fashion, she doesn’t say what. He and his lover Eudora ignore the advice (of course) and move into the house. There they get to know the townspeople, a bunch of characters that the author tries to make colorful and interesting but in reality are stereotypical and two dimensional. The townspeople have an old ritual that involves leading a pig sacrifice across the river to where a notorious Civil War slave master (and coincidentally, the great great grandfather of Frank) used to have his plantation. Frank and Eudora convince the town to stop sending the sacrifice, and of course, bad things begin to happen. Citizens (especially children) begin to die, dogs are killed, etc. etc. The rest of the story involves people going into the woods to hunt down the perpetrators of the violence, those people seeing scary things in the woods, those people being killed, more people going into the woods, seeing scary things and then being killed. The writer does a terrible job of building suspense, and seems to think that if he just ends every chapter or scene on a line break with a single sentence, it will keep the reader engaged.
A line break does not make a stupid sentence more dramatic.
Especially when it happens after every paragraph.
Eventually, the mystery is solved a few chapters after the reader has already figured out what’s going on. The violence is unnecessary and graphic, as are the random sexual encounters that do nothing to further the story. If it hadn’t been for the Cannonball Read and the pressure to finish, I would have dumped this book. It is badly written, boring, and utterly predictable. I hope my next book brings me better luck.
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