Book Reviews: This House is Haunted by John Boyne and Open Source by M. M. Frick

This House is HauntedThis House is Haunted
John Boyne
Doubleday, April 2013 (UK edition)
ISBN: 9780857520920
Hardcover
Other Press, October 2013 (US edition)
ISBN 978-1-59051-679-9
Trade Paperback

Eliza Caine has never been a beauty but her father adored her and together they led a simple but contented life. But since he died unexpectedly, she is forced to uproot herself into a new life at Gaudlin Hall. Left to care for two young children by herself, she becomes increasingly convinced that she’s not the only one looking after them. Forces beyond her control are trying to get rid of her and she has to fight to survive. But just how far can a mother’s love go?

I had read John Boyne’s more well known title, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and loved it and since I’m also a fan of gothic horror, this book seemed right up my alley. It opens with the line, ‘I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father’ and so begins a very Victorian jaunt into the Norfolk countryside. Eliza foolishly answers an advertisement for a job without checking references or questioning why no one has come to meet her first. But upon arriving, she finds that she has two charges, an unsettling girl and her younger, more loveable brother. Soon after arriving, strange things start happening and Eliza becomes more and more concerned as she discovers the dark history of the house. She is up against obstacles at every turn as the villagers close rank and refuse to answer her questions.

This was essentially a good book with a good storyline and the writing was pretty authentic in terms of style and prose. The only thing that let it down for me personally was a heavy dose of sentimentality towards the end when she discovers an unlikely ally in her fight for survival. I’ll not spoil the book by revealing just what happens but I found it too cheesy-pie for my liking. I would still recommend it to others, so if you like lashings of sentimentality and gentle scares then this is the book for you. But if your bent is more towards bone chilling, sleeping-with-the-light-on thrills, then try The Woman in Black instead for that’s a woman who was born to scare.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Open SourceOpen Source  
M .M. Frick
Matthew M. Frick, July 2010
ISBN: 978-1-453-719985
Trade Paperback

Here is a fascinating premise, in this newly shaped world of aggressive social media and instant information exchanges. This review will be posted on several blogs, a few book store sites and will be seen by some number of people all over the world. Suppose, for an instant, you are a special operative for a foreign power—any foreign power. You have been assigned to monitor blogs from certain sources in order to determine certain attitudes of leaders regarding the drilling of a new oil field in, oh, Canada. Your employer wants early warnings about possible strikes that could lead to a change in oil prices on the world market. You have a search bot which employs an algorithm you have designed. The bot travels the world of the Internet matching words and collecting data.

Now let’s assume you are a bright and inquisitive citizen with an ordinary job. You live in Georgia and one of your hobbies is searching the Internet for odd events of interest. When you find such an event, you blog about it. Perhaps your interest is oil fields. You read open sources on the internet, construct a possible scenario, just for fun perhaps and then this casual activity of yours triggers the operative’s search bot. That sends ripples through shadowy organizations and suddenly evil people are questioning how you know certain things and where you get your information. You, of course, are merely a bright person raising questions based on readily available information.

But your innocent blog begins to look dangerous to people who are suspicious of everybody and everything. YOU begin to look dangerous. And soon an operative is dispatched to deal with you, an operative who knows how to kill.

My scenario, like that of author Frick, is fiction. But this world-spanning thriller is as real as it gets and might cause you, gentle reader, to think thrice about what you post.

Open Source is a clean, well-constructed thriller with only one serious deficiency, one which detracts very little from a gripping, fast-moving story. One of the characters seems to me to have some personality defects which are troubling enough that she would not have been hired into the important position she has with a private data-mining company.  However, she is in most other aspects a competent, bright and charming woman who fits nicely into the scenario constructed by Mr. Frick in his debut novel. A very interesting and challenging story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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