The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

“All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion’s outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child

Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child.”

This is one of those books that’s hard to write about, not because of anything outstandingly good or horribly bad, but because it’s so mundane.  It’s the sheer lack of anything that stands out that defines how I feel about this book.  A bunch of kids (and yes, even though they’re in college, they’re still kids) go to a haunted house, disturb something creepy, do research to find out about it, and eventually stop it in the nick of time.  There’s the Smart Girl, the Strong Guy, the Strong Guy’s Boyfriend, the Professor, and the Stoner.  There’s even a dog, belonging to the Smart Girl.  It sounds like the makings of a Scooby Gang of one kind or another.  And for me, really, the characters never progressed much beyond these stereotypes.

And yet, I can’t say that this was a bad book.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, aside from a huge lack of originality.  The story was tight (it’s only novella length); the characters didn’t do anything, well, out of character; and the circumstances of the haunting didn’t contradict themselves.  Looked at purely from a technical perspective, the story is okay.  But this view doesn’t take into account the many questions that I was left with at the end–questions like “How did the horned child’s skeleton stay intact through all the handling?” and “What triggered the entity to go out killing?” (because despite what the story wants you to believe, the mention of killings over the course of decades negates the idea that the skeleton’s exhumation was the key) and “Why did nothing bad happen to anyone close to Maggie since she’s the one carting the skeleton around in her car trunk?”

Something else confused me.  At the end, it seems like Ford is gearing up for one final revelation when Maggie calls everyone together one more time.  Is she actually dead?  Has she uncovered one last piece of evidence?  What is it?  It turns out to be… nothing.  She just wants them to come out and see something she found on an archaeological dig.  It felt like Ford was heading towards one last big explosion of activity, and then he got bored and just ended the story.  I actually wondered if my advance copy was missing some pages.  That’s not a good sign.

So, long story short, the book leaves dangling plot threads, has one-dimensional characters, and serves up nothing new under either heaven or earth.  As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s not really anything right with it either.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from

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