House of Echoes
Author: Brendan Duffy
Published By: Ballantine Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When Ben Tierney moved his family to The Crofts, set in the mountains above a small upstate New York town called Swannhaven, he thought he was doing the right thing. There had been advantages to living in New York City, but a number of events conspired to make moving even more appealing. For one, Caroline's loss of a job thanks to the financial crumbling of the bank she worked for and the resultant nervous breakdown. For another, the bullying his son Charlie had faced in school, culminating in the Tierneys believing their son missing when the bullies locked him in the school basement. Ben's most recent book-writing attempts had produced next to nothing marketable. Then there was Bub, their youngest son and his future to consider.
So when Ben and his family had traveled to Swannhaven to see the parcel of land he had inherited from his grandmother and the local Sheriff had told him that the enormous mansion in the mountains that overlooked the town was for available for almost a steal, Ben jumped on the opportunity. Ben could see a story in the making with this historical construct and Caroline could see a project she could throw herself into - making this rundown, dated structure a comfy inn that people from all over the United States could enjoy.
Things started off well with Caroline making major improvements in the interior. Ben began making some friends out of the locals and found a school that Charlie could feel safe in. Thanks to the history of The Crofts and the town it looked over, Ben was finding a great deal of writing material for his next novel. Even Charlie had begun to come out of his shell, taking special interest in the woods surrounding his new home.
But things start getting strange when Ben begins finding mutilated animal carcasses in the woods. Caroline's moods, once manageable, begin to soar out of control. And Charlie, once so happy with their new home, was becoming introverted again, fearful of the woods he once loved so much. Even stranger are the townsfolk who have begun to take on a rundown, gaunt quality.
Ben's research had revealed some tragic moments in both Swannhaven and The Crofts' histories, but he had always figured the town to be filled with much-put-upon souls grown strong enough to weather any storm. What if he was wrong? What if the secrets of the town...of the very house which they now called home...the very things that drew him to this place as a source of positive change...what if they were the things that would tear his family apart?
House of Echoes is Brendan Duffy's first novel. I have to start this review with that statement, simply because it is extremely hard to believe. When I first started reading House of Echoes, I became incredibly immersed in the Tierney family, hoping that they could find their happiness in this new home, but knowing, just by the title, that this was not to be. I became invested in the Tierneys and thus, became just as interested in the history of the Crofts and Swannhaven. I wanted to know more, and as the mutilated animals began to appear and Charlie began to make a friend of an ominous presence in the woods, I needed to know more. So, this being his first novel, Brendan Duffy had somehow managed to create a family worth investing time in, worth getting to know and a mystery about the town and the home in which the Tierneys now lived that was tantalizing enough to retain interest.
But what I really loved about this book is that I couldn't figure out the shocking mystery until the very end. Was this a book about ghosts? With the addition of several letters from a young woman surviving the Winter Siege surrounded by Iroquois, was The Crofts built on a parcel of land that was holy to the Native Americans? Was there a demon haunting the area, attempting to rid The Crofts of human occupancy? Or was this a tale about monsters? Duffy kept me guessing until the very end, and even then, he threw in a variety of answers from the evil of humanity to the evils of the paranormal sort.
The ending of the story is a lesson of sorts. Without giving anything away, I can say that it is a lesson worth heeding. Some readers may be angry that the author doesn't entirely spell out all that happens to the Tierney family, but that's not important. It's the message of their journey that is and what Ben realizes after all of the turmoil.
House of Echoes is a fast-paced, engaging and well-written novel filled with twists and turns. Just when you think you know what is going on, the author throws you a curve and you have to adjust your way of thinking. If this is Brendan Duffy's first novel, I can't wait to see what other humdingers he has to throw at us. I'll certainly be looking for them now that I've read House of Echoes.