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Reviews In The Machine: Chasing Ghosts by Glenn Rolfe

Chasing GhostsChasing Ghosts, by Glenn Rolfe is a serious book. It goes at you quickly and hits you hard. For as much as I have loved the works of the likes of Stephen King, I am becoming more aligned with the idea that the novella as an art form is the place where the horror genre really shines. It’s so great to be able to get there and experience the meat of the story in as few sittings as possible. I read this book in a day and I think the only reason why it wasn’t in one go was because I was at work and couldn’t rightfully justify taking an hour long break.

Chasing Ghosts takes place in Maine where a disparate group of strangers is drawn together, where they are confronted by a dark presence residing within the woods. A number of different abbreviated story threads weave in and out of each other in this book as it winds its way down to the exciting conclusion.

To start off, I think just the image of a forest is incredibly evocative of our genre. I think that it is one of the last truly unexplored frontiers in our country. I remember years ago when an uncle and I drove up from New York City to see the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown. The drive takes you through some pretty rural areas as well as through parts of the Appalachians. From the car, looking up into that dense field of trees, it was hard to not feel the slightest tug of unease, wondering how anyone could be living off the grid up there.

Chasing Ghosts taps into that unease nicely and brings that fear to the forefront. I don’t want to get into too much detail because with a book of this length, it is difficult to not spoil the experience. Suffice to say that the monsters which these characters are confronted with are terrifying, not for the physical shape they manifest but because of their brutal, uncompromising and merciless nature. You get a real sense of danger for the characters which is something that I think is difficult to pull off effectively.

The story is paced quite nicely and there was never a point where I thought things were dragging or rushed along. The story made its own way to the brutal finale and while there were a few moments I wished the writing had been a touch more descriptive in terms of the geography of the scenes and what was happening, these were few and far between and did not prevent me from enjoying this book. And if you have concerns regarding graphic content, while there is violence in this book and the story is of an understandably dark nature, I didn’t feel like the descriptive language was at all exploitative or over-the-top. I thought it was generally used well as a tool to bring home the seriousness of the situation these characters have found themselves in.

If I had any critical comments about the book, it would be that I think it would benefit from having a little more focus. There are quite a lot of characters for such a short book and while Rolfe does a better job than I would have expected keeping everyone straight, I think it’s inevitable that, because not many of the characters get to have time on the page, I end up not really feeling invested in any of them. I also found the epilogue to the book to be somewhat unnecessary and I thought it took away from the strength of the ending somewhat.

To be clear though, those are my issues. Despite this, I would still strongly recommend reading this. Rolfe has some serious game and his skills come through clearly in this one.  Do yourself a favor and support a great word-smith.

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