The Dead Path: A Novel by Stephen M. Irwin
I tip my hat, Mr. Irwin. As a literary fiction snob, curmudgeonly reviewer, and reader of thousands of books let me tell you I don't impress easily. Besieged by free review copies, I toss aside far more than I read. Then in came this book. The cover was striking, and if it hadn't been for that I wouldn't have bothered reading the dust jacket blurb. But I did, and as usual thought, if it's only half as good as the raves I'll be shocked.
Reader, I was shocked.
As I said, I read the blurbs and thought blah blah… Impress me. I'll give you a chapter or two, max. And it took, what, a paragraph for me to be sucked in so completely I didn't come up for air for at least 100 pages? Yes, it was probably a paragraph. Especially when it reads like this:
It drifted down slow as morning mist, settling white on brown, white on silver, white on white. It fell so thickly that Nicholas could see no more than a meter or so ahead. His hair, normally the color of dry grass, was white with it. His hands on his hips, flecked coral, blood red, and indigo, grew steadily paler as he stood in the steady downward wash of white. His eyes, the darkest part of him, were all that moved as he watched the figure above him. A ghost, swaying its arms to the milky sky, waving. Or a summoning angel. A spectral thing, unmindful of him."
And, once you read another paragraph, you see what he's describing is actually something different. It's then you respect him for having accurately described something that fit both situations. Well done.
I read into the wee hours of the morning the first day, cursing the fact I had to put it aside to sleep, since my job that pays the bills (librarian!) requires I get out of bed and wear something besides pajamas, plus I'm partial to rest. Next day: damned laundry! Housework! I pushed most of that away and grabbed the book again. Then, one last spurt of reading, and I ran from my favorite reading spot in bed straight to my computer, so I could rave. Rave!
Is it a thriller? A mystery? A work of supernatural fiction? Fantasy? Yes! Yes! Yes! and Yes!
It also contains cracking good quality prose, spot on dialogue, fully-fleshed characters and a plot that made me wish I were independently wealthy so I wouldn't have had to put it down for longer than it requires to "tend to urgent needs."
So, the plot. Nicholas Close and his lovely wife Cate are young marrieds living in London, fixing up the flat they envisioned filling with loads of wonderful young married memories. But then, Nicholas takes a header off his motorcycle, and as he's falling to the pavement(called "bitumen" to those in the former British Empire, I learned, after it was repeated a hundred times) sees a strange face in the foliage across the street, not enough to make it out, but enough for it to register as strange. Then he hits, for whatever reason survives that nasty accident, and calls home to his wife, who's on a ladder working on a home improvement project. She slips, on her way to answer the phone, and dies in a tragic and totally unnecessary way.
Wandering through his life in a fog, one day our main character has an accident, falling down cement stairs and cracking his head on the pavement. The chap must have nine lives, because he gets up from that unharmed, as well. But it has a very strange side effect. Suddenly he's able to see ghosts, people acting out their last moments on earth, over and over and over. They're caught in an endless loop, and only he can see it. When a therapist asks if he was able to see Cate as well he revisits their now empty flat. And he can see her, falling off the ladder again and again, breaking her neck on the bathtub.
Understandably, Nicholas is distraught, and decides to return to his homeland of Australia, to stay a while with his mother until he can decide what on earth to do next. His mother greets him warmly, but there's something there, something lacking as if she's not quite glad he's back. File that one away for later.
It soon comes out that, as a child, Nicholas's best friend had been abducted and murdered in the menacing woods near his childhood home. Upon returning home there they are, in all their shivery glory, taunting him in a subtle but very real way. There is something evil in there. He knows that, but the poor man's just lost his wife. There isn't time to put a lot of thought into it.
Until… More people die.
I could keep nattering away about the plot, but there's so much I don't want to ruin. Let's just cover a few things briefly: his father committed suicide when Nicholas was young, his sister Suzette… Hmm. Shouldn't tell you that. But the two are close, and she figures prominently in getting Nicholas started investigating the evil in the woods and the tragic deaths that seem to follow him. And, he's still seeing ghosts, many of them children being dragged into the woods…
That's enough for you! You need to read the book. It's just really, really a terrific read. Does it have its creaky spots? Well, yes. It's difficult writing supernatural scenes without having them come off sounding stupid. I've tried it a couple of times. And it sounded like the script of a really bad zombie movie, and not one so bad it's good. It was just plain bad.
So, yes. I found a couple spots of struggle that could have been polished a bit more, but it just didn't matter. When 99 % of something is good, you don't complain about that one percent now, do you? Okay, sometimes. If you're feeling foul. But I forgave all, especially once I'd finished and the denouement (fancy French word for resolution) completely sideswiped me. Me! Reader of thousands of books! Did I see that one coming? No!
I'm just, plain impressed. And damn well entertained. Can't ask for more than that. And when he writes his next novel? I'll be all over it. Like a spider on a fly… cryptic smile, cocked head, raised eyebrow… nudge, nudge, wink wink…
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday (October 5, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385533438
- ISBN-13: 978-0385533430
Visit the author's website here.