I struggled with how to write this review because while there are a number of positives about the novel, there were a couple of things that drove me crazy (sorry, bad choice of words).
First, the positives… The plot to this novel is downright bizarre. There are basic conventions to haunted house stories that everyone has done to death, but you won’t find them in this book. There are creepy ghosts, evil monsters, unsettling hints of torture, and aberrant images presented within Conjure House story line that I haven’t seen before and a climactic series of events that I didn’t see coming. Dr. Fry also mixes in a little psychology, with one clever description of a haunted house consistent with levels of human consciousness. That is, the upper level of the house is devoted to abstract and higher order thinking – complete with instruments of science and investigation, ground levels of the house are associated with creative aspects of personality (art and music), and the basement is the site for the baser instincts of human nature (the unconscious levels), a site for torture – which is hidden behind a false wall and out of sight (repressed?). The entire narrative has a feel of audacity, and I mean that in a positive sense. There is no hedging – the author displayed real boldness.
The negatives though had to do with structure and pacing. Every single character is catching glimpses of these strange creatures out of the corner of their eyes. Yet, they attribute these things to moving shrubbery or the wind or something natural. While this is fine in the early stages of the novel, this pattern continues to the end – and gets very repetitive. I recognize that part of this is meant to indicate how the things move or appear, but still. Many of the characters even obtain objective evidence of the creatures’ existence, and still they blow off sightings as if it is the wind. This happens even to the point of placing a child in jeopardy, and still these people have blinders on…
A pet peeve of mine is when characters have information that would help solve the problem but don’t share that with others for no other reason than to keep the plot moving. That happens a lot here (and talking about the odd goings on would be quite normal under the circumstances – but no one mentions anything). All somebody has to say is, “Hey, is it me or have you seen these things with their thumbs missing?” If that happened, the problem could have been dealt with before turning into a crisis.
Anyway, sorry for the rambling.
By the way, I did notice one typo which presented some unintended humor. Anthony, the main character, is trying to cross the street and has to stop in the middle of a traffic circle to let cars pass. He notices a block of stone with strange symbols. The sentence reads… “It was set on grass at the heart of the roundabout, and after peeing in diminishing light, he was able to examine, for the first time with adult eyes, the curious shape carved into its face.” I may have missed something earlier about his inability to find a bathroom, but I think Anthony is meant to be “peering”.
Despite the flaws I’ve mentioned, there is a tremendous amount to enjoy in this novel. I especially liked the interactions between Anthony and the town historian. I often find the painstaking investigations or interviews conducted by characters to find out information as exciting as action scenes (if not more so). Weird, I know. Finally, the creatures and other strange entities that Dr. Fry has created and populated within his novel are worth the price of admission. Even with my relatively minor reservations, I would strongly recommend the novel.