Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Book Review: The Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz

Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Page Count: 304 Pages
Publication Date/Year: 2018
Genre: Horror

Jonathan Janz is one of the more prominent horror writers to emerge over the last half decade or so. His name has been floating around social media as a talent to watch and read. Well, about a year ago, I read what I think was his debut novel (or at least an early work), The Darkest Lullaby and some of it stuck with me, he does creepy really well. I decided to take my second tour of his work with The Siren and the Specter, which is the subject of this review.

David Caine is a skeptic, he is a best selling author of books that essentially debunk haunted places. When his old friend Chris suggests he spend some time at Alexander House, allegedly the “Most Haunted House in Virginia” for his next book project, David acquiesces. Dave becomes friendly with his neighbor, Ralph Hooper and much to his chagrin, kids whose parents are absentee parents, all of whom reside on the banks of the Rappahannock River. He also hears and sees things in the house and the area surrounding it. …and like many haunted house stories, David is haunted by his past and brings ghosts of his own when he arrives at Alexander House. 

Alexander House was home to “Governor” Judson Alexandar, a notorious abuser of women and children, murderer and potentially a practitioner of dark rituatls, whose taint has affected the entirety of the region.

What happens when the skeptic is confronted by something he cannot deny? Well, that’s the thrust of the story and Janz charges the entire narrative with a sense of unease and foreboding. Janz does a fantastic job of putting us in David’s head and building up empathy for him. Although his character type (skeptic in a horror novel) is tried and true, David is wholly his own. When confronted about his past and what lead to the death of his former girlfriend Anna, it is difficult, almost impossible to not side with David despite some of the less than level-headed decisions he’s made both in the "present" of the novel and the past. 

Janz also does a nice job of surrounding David with supporting characters who rise above their character types. There’s the down-home neighbor Ralph who befriends David, but soon reveals he knows more than he initially let on to David. Janz did some nice navigating with Ralph’s character. There’s the romantic interest Jessica, whose relationship with David starts off in a very believable and awkward fashion. Lastly, the antagonists…at least the living antagonists, the Shelbys. To say more is to rob you, the reader, of discovering just how awful they are.

The scares and the creeps are intense. There’s enough to set your hair on edge, much of it at the proverbial edge of your vision, which for me is far more effective than in your face horrors. Sure, there’s some in your face stuff, but that is far outweighed by the edge of your senses elements. Janz lays amazing groundwork with the “edge of your senses” stuff, which makes the more “in your face” stuff that much more effective. He doles out the scenes with perfect descriptions that are utterly creepy.

Something I said on twitter while reading the book: A couple of days into reading the book I had a nightmare. I’m not saying reading The Siren and The Specter caused the nightmare, but I’m not saying the book didn’t cause the nightmare. Correlation…the only two books I can say directly gave me nightmares were Stephen King’s The Shining and Dan Simmons Summer of Night and what caused those nightmares were what I previously called the “edge of your senses” creepiness. Janz, in The Siren and the Specter, excels at the “edge of your senses” horror, as I said.

Haunted House stories are staples of the Horror Genre and readers (and viewers of the movies) have certain expectations when starting the story. Janz managed to bring the novel to a rather unexpected and potent conclusion that kept me glued to the pages later into the night than I’m normally reading. He played some great twists with the Haunted House story towards the end of the novel.

The Siren and the Specter is a stunning, powerful horror novel that has me very eager to read more from a writer many have called a modern master.

Highly Recommended

© 2022 Rob H. Bedford

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