July 6, 2009

Book Review: "Ghost Walk" by Brian Keene

Title: Ghost Walk
Author: Brian Keene
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing
Published: 2008
Pages: 275
Genre: Horror
ISBN 10: 0-8439-5645-3
ISBN 13: 978-0-8439-5645-0

I must admit that I am not sure which side of the fence to land on with this book. I've heard enough positivity regarding Keene's work, and appreciated a fair bit of the stuff he's written on his own site, I figured it was about time I find one of his books and read it. Ghost Walk was one of three titles recommended by a fan of Keene's work, along with Conqueror Worms and City of the Dead, so when I learned it was available at the library I immediately got a hold of it. All in all, after reading this book I am going to go out on a limb and say this is not his best work.

Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt underwhelmed when the story was over.

The tale starts off sinister enough, with a supernatural entity emerging from beneath a rune in the middle of a burned out section of York County forest in Pennsylvania. It immediately starts taking possession of any life it can get its smoky tendrils around. And, it just so happens it all takes place in close proximity to a new Halloween attraction called the Ghost Walk (a hiking trail turned scare-fesh). Ken Ripple, a widower with a promise to keep to his late wife, is behind the organization of this charity event, and it's his volunteers who are among the first to fall.

It's garnered a little attention from the local press, so a struggling freelance named Maria gets the assignment to cover it. In her research, she learns about the legends, myths, and real-life tragedies that have befallen the site of the Ghost Walk, LeHorn's Hollow. She also meets a young, ex-Amish man named Levi who is all too familiar with the kind of evil that lurks in the Hollow, and their paths cross as each tries to learn more about what's happening.

Right here, I must say I felt Levi was the real draw in terms of character for this story. Yet, we have little time to get to know him, as he's immediately thrust into the fight against the entity trying to seep its way into our world. For as much as we learn about Ken Ripple and his past, he is really inconsequential to the story--almost cannon fodder, really--compared to Levi and Maria; both of whom I would have enjoyed reading more about in this book.

The story builds with two sides, good and evil, preparing for the invisible deadline of midnight on the eve of Halloween (during the opening night of Ghost Walk). It's great build-up, I'll say that, and I enjoyed reading it all with hopes of a tremendous showdown in the climax. Unfortunately, I didn't feel like I got that. To be fair, however, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from the ending.

Keene provides a remarkable amount of history to the location and the legends behind it, as well as the powers Levi uses to fight off the dark forces. But, the story--less than three hundred pages of it--came off rushed to me, and it felt like I was in a speeding train whizzing by the landmarks with little time to appreciate them. One character in particular, Adam Senft (a midlist genre writer who killed his wife out of fear of the demon growing inside her), could have been a more prominent figure in the story, yet we spend more time reading about him than actually experiencing the character in person. Towards the climax, he seems more prop than person.

At the end of the day, it's a good story, but I think it could have been better. It probably wouldn't have taken much, either. A little less Ken Ripple, and a little more Levi could have helped. And, so much of the mystique of the story relied on things that had already happened in the past, I wondered if there was a prequel somewhere I should have read first. I think I'm going to like reading more of Keene's work, but as I do, I think Ghost Walk will recede from my memory to make room for his benchmark novels.

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