12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Dale Bailey, House of Bones (Signet, 2003)
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me make this clear from the outset: Dale Bailey is the real deal. This is good, solid haunted house horror that will keep you up late at night turning pages.
The mark of an author who knows what he's doing is the ability to draw you in without you knowing exactly where you got drawn in. King does it well, when he doesn't grab you with the first sentence. Carson McCullers was a master at it. Bailey is the heir apparent. I'm not sure where it happened, but somewhere between pages 25 and 65, I found myself wanting to not eat, not sleep, and not do much of anything else until I had finished this book. (I ended up doing so less than forty-eight hours after that. It would have been less if not for a crisis at work.)
Dreamland is your basic housing project. Except for Building Three, where a whole lot of bad things have happened over the years. Dreamland is slated for demolition, but an eccentric billionaire named Ramsey Lomax has bribed the city to halt the demolition of Building Three and allow him to move into it for two weeks. He contacts a number of seemingly diverse people to spend the time with him, investigating the presence of ghostly activity. Four respond: a journalist who spent the first tree years of his life there, a discredited medium, a veteran with a shady past, and a young doctor on the verge of losing her career. The five lock themselves (with the aid of a convenient blizzard) in Dreamland, and the fun begins.
Put together the words "Chicago" and "projects" and the first thing likely to come to any horror or true crime fan's mind is Cabrini Green. Bailey pulls a nice sleight-of-hand, recognizable only to those of who who've seen it before, to differentiate the two, but there are still obvious comparisons. (Some of the events leading to the ghostly activity have shades of real-life crimes committed at Cabrini Green, as well; readers of the works of Peter Sotos will recognize a few of the things Ramsey Lomax points out as he guides his compatriots on their first tour of Dreamland.) There are a few minor loose threads involved with this angle of things (an aerial photo of Dreamland is referred to as looking like Stonehenge, which Bailey draws attention to, and then it's never mentioned again, for example), but nothing that can't be explained away as a red herring.
Where Bailey's writing suffers, and let me rush to say I use the term "suffers" when benchmarking this stuff against classic haunted house literature that makes everyone and their mother's 100-best lists, is that his characterization is developed a bit on the, well, leisurely side. In other words, by the end of the book, you have three-dimensional characters, but in some cases you have to wait till the end of the book to get there. I understand this is a device for hooking the reader, but (a) it's overused and trite, and (b) Bailey's already got more hooks than the slaughterhouse in the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As passe as it may be, this is one place where Bailey could take a few new tricks from the old dog himself, Stephen King (who was, is, and always will be a master of characterization in a few concise lines).
That aside, I cannot say enough good things about Dale Bailey. Read this. You will not regret it. If you download it free online or get it out of the library, I'll even offer a money-back guarantee. ****