Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

I love a good ghost story, and Wendy Webb's debut novel promises just that. Hallie James has lived in Washington with her father since her mother died during Hallie's childhood. As her father descends into Alzheimer's, Hallie receives a letter from Madlyn Crane, claiming she is Hallie's mother. The letter was sent by Madlyn's attorney on Grand Manitou Island in the Great Lakes after Madlyn died. Before he dies, Hallie's father confirms the story. Reeling from her father's death and the news about her mother, she goes to Grand Manitou to claim her inheritance. The island is an insular place, and its ban on cars adds to the creepy Gothic feel of the story, a step out of time. Hallie learns that her father faked their deaths after a young girl died in Hallie's home. Why? Could he have, as the islanders believe, caused the girl's death? And who is the ghost who sings childish songs that only Hallie hears?

This book actually didn't hook me immediately. The beginning, with Hallie in her run-of-the-mill Washington life, is not exactly atmospheric, and she seemed strangely detached from the life-changing news that her mother had been alive and her father had faked their deaths. She wasn't very fleshed out as a character. But once she reaches the island, the Gothic atmosphere creeps in. Her mother's elderly housekeeper begins to tell Hallie the story of her family's history, drawing her into the past in the midst of her adjustment to life on an island whose inhabitants had thought she'd died thirty years before. I actually had trouble falling asleep after reading a particularly eerie part of the book. There were two elements in particular that were supposed to surprise me at the end, so I was disappointed that I guessed them. One of them was obvious from the beginning. The book is saved by Webb's gift for atmospheric horror. I had genuine chills at parts of this book. The ghosts were creepy, if a bit on the cliche side. All in all, an uneven ghost story, but if you're looking for some delightfully Gothic chills, The Tale of Halcyon Crane will supply them.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

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