Reviews In The Machine : The Haunted Halls, by Glenn Rolfe
I think that supernatural fiction presents great opportunity to play with the senses, to screw with what the characters are experiencing and make the reader question almost everything they see on the page. Creating disorientation and confusion with the reader is a great way to foster apprehension and fear in a narrative.
With The Haunted Halls, Glenn Rolfe really hits his stride in creating a visual experience for his characters that for me left a feeling I can best describe as with watching Jacob’s Ladder. What’s real and what’s not? Taking the trip of finding that out is a big part of the fun of this book. And my advice would be to brace yourself for a wild ride.
On the surface, this seems like a book that is just begging to be a disaster. The narrative jumps back and forth from the past to the present and with each scene change, so does the point of view as pretty much every major character has their inner thoughts put on display.
It’s the kind of story structure that would sound cool and fun to a newcomer trying to do something that hasn’t been done before but often comes out a hot mess. In this case, Rolfe takes the narrative steering wheel and deftly maneuvers the story from character to character, present to flashback and manages to make it work really well. And each time the story jumps from one person to the next, the stakes just seem to get a little bit higher.
The story is set at an out of the way Maine hotel, the Bruton Inn. As an aside here, I think that hotels make great fuel for horror stories. Such potential for dark history and for any number of things that could have taken place behind the doors of those various rooms. And again, Rolfe uses this tool effectively in building the dread and fear within this story.
While the book doesn’t begin here, the brutal history of the hotel that we see starts with a pair of guests and the string of violence they bring about. It is an aspect of a darker presence within the hotel and even years later, that effect is still being felt. There is something present in the hotel, something that is about to make itself known to the unsuspecting guests of the Bruton Inn.
One aspect of the backstory that I really appreciated is that, despite the expository nature of the flashbacks, Rolfe also leaves room for complexity in that side of the story as well. So while he provides information to inform how the present is being affected, I also thought that the backstory could have a backstory. I liked that the flashbacks also made me interested in knowing more about those characters.
As for the present day aspect of the book, the hotel guests and staff find itself under assault from a dark and powerful presence, one bent on causing pain and suffering. And for the most part, there seems to be nothing that can be done to reason with or stop that force, as it should be.
This is a fast moving story and there aren’t many beats to allow for the reader to recover. Once things get going (and it doesn’t take long), this thing is going to take hold of you and not let go until you flip that final page. The book is stuffed full of mood and foreshadowing and I was sold pretty much from the start.
If I had any critical comment about the book, it would probably be that I would have liked to have seen the ending worked out a little more. I would have liked to have seen the presences within the hotel explored a little more and see how that affects the eventual ending. I’m having to reach pretty far for this and overall, I would still rate the experience of the book as sensational.
There is a bit of graphic content here, whether it be violent scenes or moments that are sexually charged. However, I never felt like the book was being exploitative. Everything that was there felt like it was serving a purpose
In case I’m not being clear enough, this is a book I was pleasently surprised with. It masterfully bridges the gap between a gripping thriller and a gnarly horror tale. There is a lot to like here and I hope you consider checking in at the Bruton Inn and supporting a great author!