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Book Review

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The Hawley Book of the Dead (Hardback)


Author: Chrysler Szarlam
Publisher: Century
RRP: £16.99
ISBN: 978 1 78 089146 0
Publication Date: 23 October 2014

Revelation Dyer was born with a gift, the ability to disappear, not that her husband, Jeremy minded, in fact it was a positive boon to their stage magic act. Like her female antecedence and her own children, the women of her line were invariably blessed with a single gift, whether it was healing or the ability to control animals. Her once idyllic life is shattered when during a trick involving Jeremy catching a bullet with his teeth Revelation fires a real bullet, killing him instantly. In the weeks which follow it becomes clear that someone had switched the guns and now that someone is sending Revelation pictures taken of her children. Fleeing to her ancestral home of Hawley Five Corners, Revelation is unable to protect her family from the Fetch which is stalking them...

The Hawley Book of the Dead (2014. 328 pages) is the debut novel from American author, Chrysler Szarlan. The book is the first part of a planned quadrilogy of stories.

Although the book may be thought of as a fantasy thriller, the actual magic portrayed is of a lesser and more subtle form, than the usual throwing lightning bolts extravaganzas in other fantasy books.

Revelation comes from a long line of females, most of who were born with a single gift, so although they may have been mistaken for witches in the past, their abilities have more kinship with rather odd super powers than anything demonic.

Following the slaying of her husband by some unknown assassin Revelation starts to feel that she and her three daughters are being watched. A letter from her Nan drives her to seek sanctuary in the one place she thinks will keep them safe, Hawley, the place where generations of her family had lived, now long abandoned.

The place is more like a small town and on arrival we, like Revelation, are introduced to the place and the odd reaction which it stirs in local folks. Here Szarlan starts to rank up the mystery. Why was the town deserted, almost overnight? What is the significance of the book which keeps appearing in her dreams and what is the meaning of the photographs which are sent to Revelation?

At this point, Revelation’s abilities notwithstanding, the author only offers hints that this is other than a woman being stalked by a psychopath, even though Revelation gives him/it supernatural connotations when she refers to him/it as a Fetch, a creature from one of her Nan’s stories which follows a family until it can successfully steal a person to return them to its unseen master.

Szarlan takes his time to unravel the stories central mystery, for some, this may feel like the pace has been thrown off, but I don’t think so. Although the book is a thriller at heart, the author takes time for his audience to get to know Revelation, her three girls and the characters which surround them. Revelation and ten year old Caleigh’s gifts are interesting, but not consequential enough to let the focus of the book settle there. Likewise, the Fetch is initially kept at arm’s length; otherwise he/it would overpower the exploration of Revelation's extraordinary matriarchal line and her relationship with her daughters.

In the end, Szarlan has created a good mix of mystery and magic; enough to keep you on your toes as the various plot lines twist intersect and then are resolved. Overall, it’s a good story, though some may be put off by the initial slow burn. What sells it, in the end, is that you just don’t know if Revelation is encountering ghosts, supernatural or human evil.


Charles Packer

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