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Those Across the River

Those Across the River - Christopher Buehlman The story, which begins in the early ‘30’s, immediately creates interest and curiosity in the reader. What horror is living in the woods near town? Frank Nichols and Eudora Chambers have moved into their castle in Whitbrow, GA, after being basically banished from Ann Arbor, MI. Will it be their nightmare or their dream home?
Eudora had been married to another professor at the University of Michigan, until Orville Francis fell in love with her, and she fell in love with him. When their affair was discovered, he consequently lost his job. Her husband, was also a professor at U of M, and he had a long arm of influence. It stretched far and wide making it nearly impossible for Frank to find another teaching position. Neither could find gainful employment. Their circumstances were growing grim.
In what seems a fortuitous event he inherits a house, which in her will, his aunt suggests strongly that he sell, and not live in, because of its horrid past; he decides instead to move there so he and Eudora can begin a new life together. Although his aunt stipulates in her will that he should sell the house because of catastrophes that will follow if he moves in, he dismisses her wishes and moves to Whitbrow, a small town with small-minded people, fairly backward and very poor. They sacrifice pigs to G-d every period of the full moon. Superstition keeps them continuing this tradition until the day economic conditions force them to vote to abandon it. Ghoulish tragedies begin to follow from that day forward.
Eudora will be the town teacher, replacing Frank’s deceased aunt, and Frank will attempt to research and write a book about his disgraced and ignominious great grandfather, known for his bravery during the civil war by some, but even more for his cruelty toward his slaves. His plantation, on an island that is feared by most, is hidden in the depths of the woods where none wish to venture.
At first there is gratuitous sex and I was tempted to walk away from the reading, but I soldiered on, and although the sex scenes didn’t seem relevant, and they continued to appear the tale grew more and more interesting and more and more mysterious even as the language grew unnecessarily foul. I suppose the insinuation is that a deal with the devil requires reprehensible conduct. For some reason, the author thought that using foul language, titillating sex and racial and ethnic slurs, would make the book more popular. I think I would have taken it more seriously, had it not.
Everyone likes a good scary read, once in awhile, but I felt that the book created suspense which promised more than it delivered. It was exciting, to a point but descended into shallow waters at times, especially at the end. I am not sure why so many authors, of late, find it necessary to cast aspersions upon ethnic and religious groups, inferring all sorts of negative character traits. Jews were portrayed as stereotypically cheap and the "N" word was used unnecessarily and too often. For me, these derogatory images added nothing to the story, rather they served to raise my eyebrows and make me wonder where the author was going with them. I think the author has the potential to compete in the horror/science fiction genre with the more established authors, but this one did not hit it out of the park for me.
That said, the book held my interest, for a long time, injecting just enough horror and tension into the plot until the conclusion. It was like a carrot in front of the cart pulling the reader onward, but then, it didn’t resolve in a very believable way, and even with the suspension of disbelief, it was hard to find the conclusion plausible.
Most of the characters were developed fully, and at first the plot development was, in some way, reminiscent of Steven King’s early science fiction novels. Then, toward the end, it was more like the horror genre with an emphasis on cruel and sadistic behavior and several characters, that seemed least likely to fall from grace, seemed to suffer undeserved consequences. Religious beliefs seemed to be mocked and the novels conclusion seems possibly to be set up for a sequel with the same two main characters.