BOOK REVIEW: Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

A follow up to Keene’s DARK HOLLOW, GHOST WALK is a fun horror romp which could almost stand on its own from the previous work. We have the same setting–LeHorn’s Hollow and the surrounding area–but this time it isn’t the saitor Hilineous, but something much worse and (pun intended) darker trying to come through into our world. Adam Senft from DARK HOLLOW is in an insane asylum after killing his wife from the first book after she was impregnated by the devilish saitor, and now several years after that, Ken Ripple is putting on a Ghost Walk attraction for Halloween…but the darkness is about to break through into our world right under their noses.

Levi Stolzfous (sp?) comes along and, as per his usual appearances in Keene’s work, he’s the only one who understands what’s happening and has a plan to stop it. Everyone comes together in the end–after much convincing–to help stop the darkness from ending our world, but it will come at a great cost.

Keene’s work resonates with me because he knows how to just tell you a story. He isn’t preoccupied with trying to pen what snobby literary critics will see as something all high-school juniors should have to read in class, and that’s a good thing. Nothing against the literary classics that seem to transcend time and genre, many of them are great. But so are stories like this one, just a straight forward horror story about average people–aside from Levi, that is–coming together to combat evil and save the world. These are the kinds of stories I love to dive into, a place to escape for a few hours at a time and just enjoy having Uncle Brian tell me a fun story that raises my hackles.

This is no sweeping epic like Swan Song or The Stand where humanity is facing the end of the world. This is a smaller story, and I think its size actually lends to its likability. The whole focus is on just a few characters in a small, rural area in PA, but the stakes are no less high. The entity in this book is kept sufficiently obscure and mysterious, while at the same time we are given enough backstory–and tie in information from several of other Keene works and my over-arching mythos–to understand its malevolence and give us a firm grasp on what’s at stake should it succeed in breaking into our world. So, we have this small group of characters in this small, unassuming town, facing down what will absolutely destroy us all…and in the end, the only ones who ever know are the few who were involved.

Keene’s brilliance breaks through multiple times in this book, where he masterfully displays his ability for character development in just a few short passages. More than one character we get to know just a bit during the set up of the story, and he makes these people thoroughly likable and sympathetic. Then, as suspense is building, he rips the rug out from under us and gives us a shameful and/or horrifying reveal about the character that makes us blanch, but we can’t ignore the person’s better attributes we’ve already come to know. This dichotomy leaves us both feeling for the victims and sort of nodding to ourselves, thinking, “Yep, you had that coming!”. I love little touches like this, adding depth to the people we’re reading about. Note that I said people because adding these 3rd dimensions to them elevates them from mere characters to real people, and when you can achieve that, you’re connection to them deepens and their fates have far greater impact.

Keene’s dialogue here is in fine form, allowing the people to engage in realistic conversation rather than going for polished–but ultimately phony–one-liners and quick wit. This is another aspect I appreciate, futher wedding the story and the people within it to the real world, which always adds tension and also keeps us engaged because it’s very much like being right there with them on the page. In the real world, not everyone is a fast-talking Sam Spade with perfect wit, and it’s nice to see this reflected in literature sometimes.

I’ll say too, this is the third or fourth of Keene’s novels I’ve read which features Levi Stolzfous, and far and away it’s my favorite of them. He doesn’t show up right away, letting the story set itself up organically, but when he enters the tale, he sort of becomes the focus, though there are several other main players. I really feel this story lent itself to Levi’s character very well and felt like a natural fit that worked really well.

This one is less extreme in its violence than DARK HOLLOW was as well. There is some gore, but it’s minimal, and there are no graphic sex scenes or any of that (I recall a very steamy and graphic lovemaking scene in DH, as well as some very graphic sexual violence), so this story should lend itself well to a more casual reader of horror than its predecessor. I also loved the crossover mentions of characters from my very favorite Keene work–and one of my all-time favorite books period–GHOUL. Easter eggs like that are something I live for, and it was most welcome here.

So, you should definitely read this one. If you haven’t read Dark Hollow, I’d say it’s a good idea to start there, as you’ll have a much greater understanding of the events in this book, however, I don’t feel it’s entirely necessary. There is enough backstory and information in this book to fill in what’s relevant for the story that the reader shouldn’t get lost if they’re ignorant of DH, but I still think it’s a good idea to read them both. DH is a terrific book in its own right, but keep in mind the subject matter and style is quite different between the two. DH borders on extreme horror in some aspects, though I’d say it never quite goes all the way into the sub-genre of “extreme horror”, but GHOST WALK does not tread the extreme at any point. Very different tone between the two, so keep that in mind.

If you like Keene, you’ll enjoy this. If you have NOT read Keene before, this isn’t the one to start with, but it should definitely be included in your first haul from the book store. This is a fine horror story with some terrific characters and manages a thrilling tight-rope walk over the threat of an end of the world apocalypse and a small town chiller. And masterfully so. There’s a reason Keene is considered a master of the genre, and it’s on full display here. Don’t miss it. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

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