Though this is not true, I picture every scene, in my mind's eye, as taking place at night. Is it the dreamlike quality of the writing? The Gothic accouterments of dark lace and midnight-blue frock coats? The absence of a veil, for some, between the living and the dead? Or the morbid edge to the humor that threads through the dialogue and the plot itself? Like any great book, it is this and more. It is the fact that Templeton has set up clear guide posts that allow my brain (encased in my skull, away from the light) to fill in the interstices with shadow. I have been engulfed by this book.
Of course, when I mention gallows humor and the dead, you will immediately think of director Tim Burton's work. This is a fair beginning, but only a beginning. There is much more going on between the pages here. There is pathos.
In particular there are two of the main plot threads that delve down into a level of emotion - serious emotion - that lifts the work beyond mere Burton-esque fare: 1) Hester Garlan's quest to kill her son Nathan in order to wrench back from him the gift of seeing and speaking with the dead and, 2) the haunting of Sarah Winchester.
There is a great deal to laugh about in this book. But these two narratives cause the reader not frisson, but an discomfiture that twists the heart. The psychological and physical abuse that Sarah Winchester is subjected to makes one cringe and yearn for her release. And when the hope of release seemingly comes, it is all the more devastating to see that the abuse has not ended, but merely undergone a transformation. It is still there, and Sarah Winchester is haunted by it.
Take also Nathan Garlan's predicament: Hester tried, after the unwanted child's birth, to sell him off to a man who was not his father. After spending his youth in a hellish orphanage, the young man grows to become one of the most respected mediums in the country. Little does he know that the woman who gave him life wants to take it from him again. And let's not forget that the boy, now a man, has a father, as well, a ne'er-do-well haunted by the (rather stupid) ghost of his own brother.
I would spoil the fun and the wonder of this book if I were to reveal more. It is beautifully written, well-plotted, and meaningful. Templeton breaks Burton's boundaries and expands them. This is a dark and vivacious work that, ironically, breathes new life into some of the old, tired tropes of Gothic literature and dark cinema. It is absolutely worth your time and your hard-earned cash. There is no lovely end to the praise I can heap upon this book. Go buy this little ebony box of mysteries and make it your own.
PS: In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I know the author. No, she did not gift me a copy of this book - I bought it with my own cash. She did not ask for a review, nor did I promise such a thing. What you see in this review is all that it seems - high praise for a highly praiseworthy work of fiction.