Author – David J Rodger
Published – March 2015
I’ve been making an effort in recent months to read and review books by other Indie and self-pub Authors. From the start of 2015 I’ve decided to review any that I give 3 stars or over on my blog.
As per my previous post on the subject, I am also very interested in swapping honest reviews with other authors, so please get in touch if you’d like to swap reviews.
From Amazon –
A Cosmic Horror Stalks The Quiet Places of England
James Spaulding, recently deceased after military action, finds himself in a new body courtesy of top grade medical cover. But physical miracles don’t always heal the mind. Traumatised by his experiences, he accepts an invitation from his sister to spend time at a remote house in Cornwall, England.
Annabella Spaulding has inherited an extraordinary property from their estranged grandfather. A man neither has seen since childhood. Taking her husband and two brothers with her, Annabella seeks to heal the painful rifts between them.
But when owners of a local mine show an unhealthy interest in the property, it becomes worryingly apparent their grandfather may not have died from natural causes. Monsters lurk in the quiet places. And they want to get into the house.
There is a great secret bound within the house, and digging through the clues to discover the truth James and his sister risk tearing down the walls of sanity and reality.
A group trip to a mysteriously inherited house, family tensions under the surface, and the pretense of dressing for dinner – the beginnings of this story could be the plot of an Agatha Christie, had she written science fiction. Set in an indeterminate time in the future, the focus of the story in the beginning is the attempted healing of a family recovering from the trauma of recent deaths and a brother returning from war. Being a sci-fi it’s not all as simple as that and we slowly learn that there is more to James’s situation as that brother returning from war. It soon becomes clear that the mystery that brought the group to the house, Oakfiled, extends beyond the inheritance but to the house itself, the neighbours and the odd town it overlooks.
The story is well written and the beginning draws you into an interesting place, family and situation. James has returned from war not quite right, his sister Annabella has inherited their estranged grandfather’s house and the two of them take a trip out there along with their younger brother Anthony, Annabella’s husband David and hanger on Briggs, David’s business partner. Immediately we are thrown into the compelling story of this family and their tensions – all from the perspective of James who is trying to recover from his trauma and rebuild relations with his family, at the same time as having to confront their past issues and current struggles.
The first quarter feels sort of slow, but revealing things bit by bit provides intrigue. In fact I really enjoy being in the story with them – at the house and in that landscape, it feels like a bit of a holiday. We meet some of the locals, and mysterious locked doors in the house that hint at the deeper mystery of why the prominent local family and mine owners, the McKenzies, want to get their hands on it.
That said, I lost that connection to a degree about quarter of the way through with the unexpected and jarring introduction of a sexually aggressive manic pixie dream girl – a tattooed, elvin nosed beauty who reminds the brooding James what it is to be alive. In their first meeting the characters have sex, which could be seen as an extension of her role as an exposition character, but in reality it is gratuitous and much the same thing could have been achieved without. I’m no prude so it isn’t the sex scene itself which bothers me but the fact that this is the sum of this characters parts. This female character doesn’t progress beyond relaying exposition, making James feel things, and being the object of sexual obsession for both James and local bad guy Caleb.
From about half way the science fiction aspects of the mystery become more prominent. We come to understand quite how strange this local town is and the reach of the McKenzies. It is quite chilling for the reader to realise there appears to be no escape for this family they have been building a connection with. Once the mysteries of the house’s basement are revealed we start to head into pure sci-fi, which feels slightly at odds with the atmosphere at the beginning of the story. It might have felt more cohesive if the sci-fi element was stronger throughout and if we’d been given more of an opportunity to discover more about humans living off world and what is going on out there.
I started out really enjoying this and seeing myself giving it at least 4 stars but, as it drew to a quick and slightly unresolved end, I found myself feeling like I was missing something. I know some if not all of the books by the same author are set in the same world and are often referred to as Lovecraftian so I think it might come together as part of that and be better appreciated by readers who have read more of Rodger’s work and have a greater knowledge of Lovecraft.
That said, it wasn’t just the ending that let it down for me. Although it is revealed bit by bit the kind of experience James had at war and the technology that surrounded this, I would have loved more about this. I would really liked to have explored further what happened to him and the effects it was having on him being in a new “zipper”. It is touched on here and there but really could have been expanded.
But the thing I struggled with the most was the gender balance. For a story set in the future I would expect greater diversity and especially a more equal gender balance with less stereotypical genderising on both sides. Of all the characters at the house, the neighbours and in the town itself, only two are female and both have seemingly traditionalised roles (I’m not going to touch on race as this gets caught up in the sci-fi aspects of the story). The fact that at one point Annabella’s husband, during an argument, shouts “Be quiet woman” as opposed to the less genderised “Shut up Annabella” or something similar, was very jarring for me. All the men of the family are adventurers and war heroes to Annabella’s therapist, and I can’t help but wonder whether it might have been more interesting if the Briggs character was also female.
Overall, this is an interesting yarn that I think will especially appeal to Rodger’s existing fanbase but might be a little less accessible to newcomers to his works. The mystery is interesting, the family dynamics and especially the start of the story are strong, but there are definitely areas that could have been stronger.
Oakfield is available now at Amazon